Language barrier health warning

There is an increasing need for interpreters to help foreign patients navigate their health-care journey. Photo: Supplied.

Demand for interpreters at Wairau Hospital is set to escalate as more migrants settle in Marlborough.

Health bosses are set to train extra staff over the next year to help combat potential language problems with patients.

And they are calling for people who speak a second language to consider offering their help.

Strategy, primary and community general manager Cathy O’Malley says Nelson Marlborough health expects interpreter costs to rise.

“The cost will increase over time as the non-English speaking community increases.

“Even as people develop English language skills, they may still need interpreters for healthcare consultations.

“We fully support ongoing use of interpreters for important healthcare conversations,” she says.

Nelson Marlborough Health have a duty of care to communicate with all patients in a way they understand.

Money has been set aside in the budget to cope with the increase in demand.

Figures from the Office of Ethnic Communities show 93 per cent of people living in Marlborough speak English, 2 per cent Māori and 8 per cent other languages.

The expected arrival of up to 100 Columbian refugees in April will not stretch current interpretation services, Cathy says.

“We are confident we will be able to manage the need for Spanish speaking interpreters.”

Patients have access to interpreters, on the phone, for more than 120 languages.

Face to face interpreters are available for several languages already but cost around $120 per hour.

But Cathy says additional language speakers will need to be trained over the next year.

“We have face to face interpreters for several languages, such as Spanish, available and will train additional language speakers as interpreters over the year.

“The demand for interpreter services will change over the next few years, so we aim to respond to demand as it changes.

“Any patient who requires an interpreter can ask for one,” Cathy says

Fully bilingual or multilingual hospital staff are used in some scenarios to help patients.

Cathy says it is better to bring in trained and skilled interpreters so current staff aren’t pulled away from their other jobs.

“Having an interpreter service on hand is also preferable to asking multilingual staff members to stop what they are doing to assist with another job.”

If there are people in the community who speak a second language and would like to offer their skills, they can contact Interpreting NZ on 0508 468 377.

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