Breaking down language barriers

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7161.816 (Published 19 September 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:816

Some ethnic groups may have problems in getting as far as a consultation

  1. Caroline Free, Honorary research fellow
  1. Department of General Practice and Primary Care, Weston Education Centre, King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry, London SE5 9PJ
  2. Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8QF
  3. Ninewells Hospital, Dundee DD1 9SY
  4. Liverpool Health Authority, Liverpool L3 6AL
  5. North Regional Deaf Association, Merseyside Society for Deaf People, Liverpool L13 0DJ

    EDITOR—Jones and Gill's timely editorial addressed the difficulties of general practitioners practising in a multilingual environment in the inner cities.1

    “A rapid access comprehensive telephone interpreting service in the NHS” may well help to make “equality of access more of a reality for some ethnic minority groups.” However, to enable equality of access to services, the difficulties faced by some linguistic minority groups in getting as far as the consultation need also to be recognised. Important components of a system that will enable full access to services for linguistic minority groups include knowledge of the existence of services 2 3 and the ability to contact them either by making an appointment in person or by telephone.4 For example, Vietnamese residents of Southwark and Lewisham had major gaps in their knowledge of the NHS. In particular, they did not know about out of hours arrangements for general practice. Those with limited skills in the English language even had difficulties booking appointments or requesting interpreters through the surgery. They were unable to contact general practitioners by telephone but were able to use open access surgeries or accident and emergency departments (C Free …

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