Jan 16, 2018

Should Hospital workers be ordered to speak English only at work?

Australia is a multicultural nation – around 28 per cent of Australia’s population born overseas, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

In many workplaces, it’s encouraged to hire staff who speak more than one language – in an attempt to be more inclusive of the varying customer needs.

For the everyday Australian who struggles with English, it can be comforting if they are able to convey they issues/problem/demands in their own language.

But one Queensland hospital has asked their staff to not speak languages other than English in their hospital.

9News reported that a staff member at the Mount Isa Hospital emailed staff, telling them that they would be referred to human resources if they spoke a language other than English while working at the hospital.

The email read: “Just a quick reminder that only English is to be spoken in the unit. I have received a few complaints lately about staff speaking in their own language in front of others.”

“This makes people feel paranoid and isolated and it is to stop immediately. If I get any other complaints the matter will be referred to HR.”

It’s been reported that this email was “unauthorised” and that the staff member in question is being counselled.

North West Hospital and Health Service Acting Chief executive, Barbra Davies confirmed that this email was unauthorised, stating that no such directive was ever issued.

“Senior management at Mount Isa Hospital has not issued any directive to staff to speak only English whilst on duty,” Ms Davies said.

The need for bilingual health staff

According to one research, patients of non-English speaking background generally experience even greater communication problems than native speakers of English during health care interactions.

Whilst these problems may be due to a range of factors, it is generally believed that language barriers are a major cause of miscommunication and result in reduced health outcomes for patients.

So there is increasing recognition that provision of appropriate bilingual support within the healthcare setting is crucial for optimal patient care.

Research has identified that more actions to the opposite effect of the “unauthorised email” needs to be done – a more multicultural approach needs to be adopted.

Queensland Health have stated that there is no requirement for staff to speak only English among themselves at any health facilities.

The health department have received no formal complaints from any staff, patients or visitors at the hospital in question about staff speaking foreign languages.

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  1. Yes they should speak English I have seen cares speak they own language over the residents and using bad language it wrond

  2. Speak English as residents find it hard enough already understanding you. Speak your language in meal times and outside of working hours.

  3. As an Aged Care Specialist working in this field i am often asked by clients whether the aged care facility I am recommending for their loved ones has staff who speak English. I do believe that the level of care can be compromised when the carer has difficulty understanding the resident’s care requirements. Having said that I also believe that the carers, in the main, have a genuine care ethos. I would support the use of the English language in front of the residents. The carers should be free to use what ever language they are more confident with in their time whether at work or not.

  4. This is really interesting. I assume that bilingual hospital workers can be quite rare to find and having someone who can speak the patient’s first language when in a health care setting is extremely valuable.

    However, it sounds like that there was a complaint about workers speaking in a different language in front of a English only speaker and thus excluding them from the conversation. In this instance, hospital workers should be aware that most patients would feel excluded from a conversation due to an inability to understand the language.

    I think the email was worded very badly and could have been better written as recommending that only English is spoken in front of patients unless requested otherwise, but you can speak other languages when not in front of patients and also it shouldn’t be to deliberately exclude someone from the conversation.

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