A fifth of health professionals have faced language barriers when communicating with colleagues and patients, which some admit have affected the care they are able to give.
Research has found that healthcare workers in the UK are losing as much as half a working day each week overcoming communication barriers with people for whom English is a second language.
The survey of 1,000 nurses, doctors and health professionals commissioned by Pocketalk, which provides a digital translation service, found that staff lose as much as four and a half hours each week trying to communicate key messages to patients and colleagues.
Some admit this language barrier has prevented or delayed them from giving the best care they could.
More than a third said language barriers made it more difficult to assess a patient’s needs and half said that being able to communicate effectively with a patient who speaks a different language improves patient-care relationships.
A third said they were unable to access timely and accurate translation services which could improve the level of care they are able to give.
Joe Miller, general manager at Pocketalk, said that, as well as ensuring that inequalities in healthcare can be addressed, overcoming language barriers will be key as the UK welcomes thousands of Afghan refugees.
“The UK is made up of a vibrant mix of ethnic groups and addressing diversity in healthcare can literally save lives. To best communicate, understand, and treat patients with the best care possible, it’s vital that patients and their families are understood,” said Miller.
“Not only can tech help doctors and nurses and other medical professionals do their job but, it also allows for vital relationship building, which is crucial within the healthcare sector.”
Health professionals, including occupational health practitioners, need to have a suitable level of English in order to practice in the UK. For health workers whom English is not their first language, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) has been the preferred qualification for overseas staff who work in the UK, but in 2018, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the General Medical Council accepted the Occupational English Test (OET) as an alternative proof of fluency.