HSE sends emergency phrase books to every acute hospital


EMERGENCY PHRASE books have been sent to every acute hospital in the State to help frontline staff communicate with patients who cannot speak English.

The Emergency Multilingual Aid packs, which are intended for use before the services of an interpreter are requested, were produced in response to difficulties reported by staff in dealing with newly arrived immigrants.

They include phrase books in 20 languages, from Arabic to Urdu, language identification cards and a manual containing guidelines for staff on using interpreters.

Alice O’Flynn, the HSE’s assistant national director for social inclusion, described it as a “hands-on toolkit” for staff in emergency and acute settings to help communicate with people with limited English proficiency. The packs have been sent to all acute public hospitals in the past fortnight.

“We have had a lot of interest in the [packs] from our colleagues who deliver healthcare in the community, such as primary care teams – GPs, public health nurses, dentists – mental health and social workers, where they would see many patients and service users who do not speak English as their first language,” Ms O’Flynn said.

“So the potential for them to be adapted and used throughout the entire healthcare system is enormous.”

She added that the HSE had also been contacted by some of its international counterparts who were interested in the initiative.

Last year the HSE published an intercultural strategy to adapt services to cater for the cultural and linguistic diversity of its users.

In the catchment area of one of the major Dublin hospitals, for example, there are 60 ethnic groupings, 25 per cent of AE attendances are patients from minority ethnic backgrounds and staff members come from 42 different countries.

Sioban O’Brien Green of Akidwa, an African women’s network, said immigrants’ lack of knowledge about the health service was often compounded by the language barrier.

“I have just finished facilitating a group down in Cork and about a third of the group did not have English as a first language and had very poor English. We had 22 women in our group with 12 different languages,” she said.

“I can imagine if they had to present for any kind of emergency procedure, it would just be a nightmare . . .

“It certainly comes up very often in our consultations with women – not being familiar with services and not being able to communicate effectively.”

The HSE’s intercultural strategy last year recommended the establishment of a national interpretation service to improve services provided to immigrants across the State.

It suggested that current fragmented services were causing distress to non-English speakers and health workers and there was pressing need for a standardised system.

The new packs contain guidelines for staff on using interpreters. They advise against using other staff members or a patient’s family or friends to interpret.