Why the Welsh Language can’t be overlooked in a health emergency.
Over the past few months, Welsh hospitals have raced to create additional capacity on their wards to cope with the anticipated surge of patients with Covid-19. Patients have been discharged at a faster pace than before.
To support this faster flow out of hospitals for patients who were well enough, on April 7th 2020 Welsh Government published their Hospital Discharge Service Requirements guidance https://gov.wales/hospital-discharge-service-requirements-covid-19. This guidance introduced a suspension in the Choice of Accommodation protocol, meaning that once patients no longer need to be in hospital, they are discharged. Those who cannot be cared for at home are placed in a care home, with no requirement for this to be one of the patient or family’s choosing. This change has been effective in enabling Welsh hospitals to create the space to deal with patients suffering from Covid-19, but have they managed to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of those patients discharged into care homes?
The Welsh Language Standards http://www.legislation.gov.uk/wsi/2018/441/made apply to all Health Boards in Wales and state that people have a statutory right to receive all of their care through the medium of Welsh if they choose. Health Boards should provide this through the ‘Active Offer’ of a Welsh language service to patients, without needing to be asked. Delivering the Active Offer and finding care for Welsh speakers that meets their language and cultural needs was a challenge pre-Covid, how much harder must it be in the midst of the pandemic?
Communicating in your first language matters. There is a global evidence base of the impact that language has, not only on people’s experience of care, but also on their health outcomes. This could have a profound impact on people, in particular those with Dementia or who have suffered Stroke and lost their use of English. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-together-magazine/june-july-2019/losing-your-english-reverting-your-mother-tongue-dementia Language barriers impact on socialisation and place Welsh speakers in non-Welsh speaking care at risk of loneliness and isolation and the associated ill-effects on their well-being. https://hiraethcymru.com/ Friends and families are not currently able to visit, meaning that days and weeks may pass without people being able to speak in their first language.
This week, the world heard about 96 year old Ray Mc Dermott, who lives in Ohio and wanted to speak the language of her childhood once more. Welsh speakers from across the globe sent greetings and extended offers to converse with this lady. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52700484 The fear of not being able to use your mother tongue is not unique to the other side of the Atlantic and is shared by Welsh speakers much closer to home.
As our public services reflect on the first peak of Covid-19 in Wales and try to learn lessons for any future surges in demand, the challenge is for Health Boards and Local Authorities to make sure that consideration of Welsh language needs is not seen as a ‘nice to’ element of care, but instead is recognised as both a right and intrinsic part of person-centred care planning, no less important than clinical factors. Discharge planners and care providers need to consider how they can assess and meet the needs of Welsh speakers every day, but particularly in these challenging days, so that Welsh speakers are not left alone with their language in inappropriate care settings.