Follow the Tories on the NHS ... just this once

It's not often that I agree with either the Tories or the Daily Mail, especially on anything to do with the Health Service; but this is one of the rare occasions where I do want the NHS in Wales to follow the lead they are setting.

As reported by the BBC yesterday, Andrew Lansley:

told the Conservative Party conference that GPs would be vetted to ensure they had adequate language skills and could communicate properly

and said that

proficient language skills were equally as important as proper medical qualifications when it came to doctors being able to practise in England

BBC, 4 October 2011

If this is something that goes ahead in England, there can and should be nothing to stop us doing something similar in Wales. The 1993 Welsh Language Act set out a duty for all public bodies to treat both English and Welsh on the basis of equality. But even after eighteen years, the chances of being able to get medical treatment in Welsh are patchy. This must change.

Up until now, the usual attitude has been that it was more important just to get medical treatment, and that the language it was delivered in was a secondary consideration. If people were able to get a service in Welsh it was regarded as "icing on the cake" rather than a fundamental part of the service offered.

So I welcome this long overdue change of attitude in England. I agree wholeheartedly that "proficient language skills are equally as important as proper medical qualifications" and would like to see the Welsh Government apply the same principle to the Welsh NHS as the UK government is about to apply to the English NHS.


Obviously this doesn't mean that every doctor in Wales has to be able to speak both Welsh and English, but it does mean that Health Boards in Wales should have a statutory duty to ensure that sufficient Welsh speaking medical staff are employed and available to meet the demand for services in Welsh. This of course will vary from area to area, and vary over time as the number of people who speak Welsh increases.

As yet, the new Welsh Language Standards that will come into force as a result of the Welsh Language Measure 2011 have not been set, and it will be for ministers in the Welsh Government to set them. But the general principle behind the standards is that they should have positive effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language. Therefore it seems entirely appropriate that the relevant standards for Health Boards should include provision to both monitor language proficiency and increase the numbers of medical staff who are able to deliver medical care in Welsh so that everyone who wants a service in Welsh can be sure of getting it.

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Jac o' the North, said...

To make this happen we must train more health professionals rather than recruiting from outside Wales. The problem being that training costs money whereas externally recruiting is relatively cheap.

But this approach has its dangers. In this area - south Meirionnydd - the ambulance service seems to recruit most of its paramedics from outside Wales. They often come in husband and wife pairs.

Making me wonder how well strangers to the locality can do their jobs in a sparsely-populated rural area with countless farms, lanes and tracks, and all the place names in Welsh.

In addition, there's the issue of Welsh people denied good jobs because (it seems) training is not available. Worse, this lack of local training leading to good jobs being denied to locals is not confined to health professionals.

But wherever one finds it the issue seems to be a lack of political will to provide the funding for locals to be trained to do many of the jobs in their home areas.

From a Welsh perspective, whether viewed from a language or an employment angle, this is a lose-lose situation. But with an obvious remedy.

MH said...

Agree completely, Royston. Where else except in Wales are we going to get any staff in any profession trained to be able to deliver their expertise equally well in both Welsh and English? It applies not just to the medical profession, but to the care professions, the teaching profession, the police, etc, etc ...

And yes, I agree that training costs money. But where does that money go? Into the colleges that provide the education, and therefore into the pay packets of professors, lecturers and trainers, into the accounts of the firms that maintain the buildings and the equipment. It's better for these to be in Wales rather than somewhere else in the world.

Cibwr said...

At my first consultation with my doctor in Moseley in Birmingham he asked if I would like us to use Welsh, he was an Indian doctor whose first practice was in Meirionnydd!

Anonymous said...

Funny how small langugae communities like Iceland or Faroe Islands can appoint people with a whole range of skills and services who speak their language whilst Wales can't.

One reason is that so many of our young people go to study in England - university or even college and end up staying there. Whilst, many English people move the other way.

Truly depressing to see Welsh-speaker doing job in England when we're desperate for Welsh-speakers to do similar jobs back home.

No fault on any one individually, but why is our education system so 'careless' or rather, care-less about losing the investment we make in our young people - academic, financial and, yes, linguistic, investment.

If we were an island or an independent state there'd be articles in the papers about our 'brain drain' and 'losing young people'. As it is, it's hardly commented on, and when it is, some Labour AM will attack you for wishing to build a wall or create apartheid or such nonsense as Cynog Dafis found out in 2001.

lionel, Newport said...

well there is a simple answer to the above. Use Welsh Language services where they exist and where they don't and should - make a fuss. If enough people in south Meirionnydd complained about monoglot English-speaking Ambulance workers, they would have to do something about it, eventually. But they obviously don't. Demand for Welsh medium services creates two things. Jobs for Welsh speakers in Welsh speaking areas (we are not talking Newport or Monmouth here)and kudos for the language. Use it or lose it - Simples!

MH said...

I agree in principle, but there's a slight problem with that, Lionel. As I look back, the 1993 Act should have resulted in all public bodies providing services in both Welsh and English ... but it didn't deliver. As time went on, the expectation that it would eventually deliver diminished so that people didn't think that kicking up a fuss would make a difference. BYIG had no powers of enforcement, so the bodies concerned could just ignore them. We learned that it didn't matter how loudly we complained.

One of the things I was looking forward to with the new Measure was a new attitude and a new expectation that things would now change to deliver what should have been delivered by the public sector years ago. Today we've heard that Meri Huws is to be the new Language Commissioner; and although I have a great deal of respect for her, I must admit to having the sneaking feeling that everything might just carry on as before. I hope I'm wrong.

I can't help feeling that we've missed the chance to clearly show that things will now change, which would send the signal that it was worth kicking up a fuss and that we could expect action to be taken if we did.

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