The arrival of many different nationalities to Ireland in recent years has led to language diversity, resulting in communication breakdown in many key areas, including key parts of the health-care sector such as in doctors' surgeries, pharmacies, healthcare clinics and hospitals.
The impact of migration on the healthcare system combined with the launch of the Health Services Executive's National Intercultural Health Strategy, which identified information, language and communications as one of four main priorities and areas of development, confirmed Pfizer's belief in the need to engage in this area.
The key ten languages that are frequently spoken in modern Ireland are English, Irish, French, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin), Lithuanian, Latvian, Portuguese, Arabic (Classic) and Russian.
In order to respond to this challenge, Pfizer developed a poster to facilitate communication with patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), to provide a tool to overcome minor language barriers during consultations and to serve as a welcome poster in General Practitioner’s (GP) surgeries for patients coming from different ethnic backgrounds. An A5 reference guide was also designed in order to facilitate communication at the entry point to surgeries and/or in nurse consultations.
Research at the Department of General Practice, NUI Galway reveals that language differences between patients with LEP and their GPs are a serious barrier to health care access. The Health Connect Project addresses this problem, though it should be noted that these new tools were not designed to replace the use of a professional trained interpreter. Instead, the Multilingual Project intends to facilitate a path of communication between a GP, GP staff and their patients.
Many areas within the healthcare sector do not have a similar communication aid. With that in mind, the second phase of this initiative has been developed for use in pharmacies. This part of the project will be launched in Spring 2010 and has been endorsed by the Irish Pharmacy Union. Again, all ten languages are included and the aim is to facilitate communication between the pharmacist and the patient, in particular, as a means of ensuring that best practices are followed, medication guidelines are adhered to, correct instructions are given on how to take a medication and patients are not put at risk due to language misunderstandings.
The project commenced in August 2007. A pilot involving all County Galway GPs was launched in Spring 2008 and then followed up during the summer of 2008 by research among these GPs to evaluate the effectiveness of the poster. All research results were taken into account before the final project was launched nationally in November 2008, with all GPs receiving a poster and a quick reference guide.
The evaluation revealed that the Multilingual Project was very well received by the majority of GPs. They considered the idea and choice of languages to be excellent. It was perceived to be relevant, effective in terms of content and clarity and to be a useful tool for overcoming minor language barriers. It was considered clear and easy to use, containing useful and appropriate content. The majority of GPs found that it made patients feel welcome in the surgery.
This project has succeeded in increasing access to healthcare for migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, and all those with poor English proficiency. Feedback from the centres dealing specifically with people with LEP confirmed that the project is timely and necessary and helps to relieve anxiety, which people experience when a health issue that requires visiting a healthcare professional arises.