Refugees face language barrier at health visits

A report has highlighted some of the difficulties refugees and asylum-seekers are having accessing health services in the borough.
Asylum seekers at an English lesson run by the Support for Wigan Arrivals ProjectAsylum seekers at an English lesson run by the Support for Wigan Arrivals Project
Asylum seekers at an English lesson run by the Support for Wigan Arrivals Project

Produced by Healthwatch Wigan with the help of the Support for Wigan Arrivals Project (SWAP) and TS4SE, a not-for-profit organisation which supports refugees, the report outlines how language is proving to be the biggest barrier for refugees accessing health and social care services in the borough.

It raises concerns about interpreters rarely being on hand to help refugees and asylum-seekers register and book appointments or during consultations with a GP.

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It goes on to say that this has led to some refugees’ struggling to communicate their health problems.

One refugee spoken to for the report said he comes out of the doctors more stressed because he cannot communicate with the doctor and, although being given a prescription, didn’t want to take it as he didn’t believe he had got the message across.

It also outlines on how many occasions, refugees are forced to bring along a friend or a family member who speaks English to interpret for them but many speak only broken English and struggle to translate medical terms.

The report recommends: “General practitioners need to be aware of the common health and emotional issues of people seeking asylum and refugees. Physical symptoms such as aches, pains and headaches may be how stress, trauma and mental health issues are presented.

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“However, they may have physical bases that the patient is struggling to articulate, particularly where trust and understanding has not been developed.

“Insufficient time and language support during appointments means that many refugees and people seeking asylum are not able to communicate or access the help they need. “

Despite the language issues, many of the refugees spoken to were positive about their experiences with the health services provided in the borough.

One person said following treatment at Wigan Infirmary: “The service at the hospital was good, I don’t have a complaint. They treated me like a normal person instead of a refugee from Syria.”

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Some of the refugees spoke of having experienced torture in their home countries and undergoing dangerous journeys to get to the UK.

Wigan’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has welcomed the report.

Dr Tim Dalton, local GP and Clinical Chair of the CCG said: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank Healthwatch Wigan, SWAP, and TS4SE for this piece of work. From the report we note the recommendations around primary care services relating to language barriers when accessing services.

“Translation services are already in place in all GP practices, but we are currently reviewing the recommendations and working in partnership with the local authority to understand how best to improve the support offered.

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“Our first step will be to produce language identification cards that will be used by asylum seekers and refugees so that early identification of language can be identified and the appropriate language translation provided quickly in any health setting.”