Interpreters are necessary part of care

Dear Editor

I was incensed by the article last week about the intention of Brent PCT to withdraw funding for interpreter services (GP, 2 March).

I have spent a lot of time over the years fighting managers who are hiding behind NHS institutions, and attempting to continue or put in place essentially racist policies. This is another example of such a policy.

I cannot see how selecting a subgroup of the population for inferior healthcare on the basis of their spoken language can be construed in any other way.

To say that it isn’t necessary for a doctor to have an interpreter to communicate effectively or confidentially with a non-English-speaking patient is simply to deny that patient a right that is assumed for all the rest of the population.

Similarly, to deny the resource implications is to deliberately obstruct the provision of equitable care. It is important for many practices and patients throughout the country that such basic, often hard-won rights, are not lost.

My experience in these matters showed that the involvement of local MPs and the media can be helpful in these situations. Compared with years of wrangling and production of audits, a mere mention of the problem in the House of Commons and the appearance of TV and newspaper journalists at the surgery produced a dramatic about-turn in PCT policy.

I suggest that practices develop a timetabled escalating policy to deal with this. At the outset they could advise the PCT of the policy and accept a meeting, if offered, but accept no deferral of their timescale.

Initially they could approach the BMA and Commission for Racial Equality to see if they are willing to support the practices in taking action. They could then apprise local MPs, ministers and even the PM of their concerns and garner their support. Euro-MPs probably appreciate the necessity of interpreting facilities more than most and could also be approached.

Copies of letters to and replies from these agencies can then be used to engage the media if necessary.

Dr John McAvoy

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