For many people moving from overseas to live and work in the UK, language barriers are a significant challenge. When it comes to healthcare, a lack of familiarity with English can reduce access to services and put patients' health at risk.
It can also lead to inappropriate use of emergency services: anecdotal evidence suggests that UK residents with little or no English disproportionately attend A&E departments, whether or not this is the most appropriate place for them to be treated.
This can be for very simple reasons such as lack of confidence in making telephone appointments with GPs. A lack of English may also mean public health campaigns are not understood, undermining the work of community nurses and healthcare providers.
Teaching English to clients
Warwickshire-based health visitor and registered nurse Alison Lewis has been working to address this issue throughout her career. She first began teaching English to patients while working in North London during the 1990s.
'I became interested in teaching English to clients when working as a health visitor for homeless people in Enfield,' she explains.
'A large number of Kurdish refugees were housed in a hostel where a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) teacher came once a week to help the women improve their communication in English.
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