Improving Health in the Community with Language Access

Nov 19, 2020

Universal health care irrespective of age, health, race, social status, or ability to pay. To high quality care for all. 

The founding principles of the NHS are as relevant today as at the time of its creation in the late 1940s. This year has made many of us proud of the NHS, but the Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted inequalities that exist within the health of our society. 

This isn’t news to the healthcare industry. 

For the past decade or so the NHS has been turning to preventative healthcare campaigns. Born out of necessity from a financial perspective — health problems related to smoking, alcohol, and obesity cost the NHS 11 billion a year – public health campaigns attempt to tackle the root causes of preventable health issues. As much as 40% of ill health in England is due to potentially preventable risk factors. 

The trend shows no sign of slowing with the launch of a campaign to tackle obesity in response to the pandemic this summer, alongside existing Public Health England campaigns such as the One You initiative. 

 But, the UK is too diverse for a one size fits all approach.

What’s the link between health and language?

2% of the UK population do not speak English well or at all. That’s about 1.3 million people who require the help of someone else in order to access medical help. In more diverse areas of the country, such as Newham, Brent, and Leicester, that number rises to between 8% and 9%. In terms of health around 40% of people with low English proficiency reported poor health, versus around 20% poor health for those proficient in the English language. 


Proficiency in English by health
There are numerous examples which indicate a cross-over between a lack of English language and poor health outcomes. The reality is that without English language proficiency the ability to seek help is much more challenging. It is difficult for people to access suitable healthcare, which may have a longer term impact on health. For those who are reliant on friends or relatives to provide interpreting the issue of privacy is very real. Many do not seek the help they need because they do not have impartial language support. Or if the support exists, they do not know how to access it. 

Reaching communities who are left out and report poor health is integral to reducing preventative health issues. For personal healthcare companies — delivering wellness campaigns into the community — a lack of English language proficiency can prohibit their reach to the very people most in need of assistance. 

Boosting retention in lifestyle and wellness programmes

For personal health management companies, who provide the wellbeing and lifestyle services, the most significant challenge is getting people to stick with a programme. 

Building a relationship of mutual trust and understanding with a health coach is essential. Our solution has always been to book the same interpreter for each client throughout the duration of their programme. There is immense value in having the same interpreter present to help build the relationship. Our system will always attempt to book the same interpreter first and foremost for this reason. 

The wider programme content matters too. All content should be fully translated. Put simply – how can anyone take full advantage of information if they can’t read it? 

Things that seem basic from the outset, such as automated text reminders, have a big impact too. A translated SMS appointment reminder ensures the attendee is immediately aware. The step of both remembering, and finding someone else, to translate a text could be the stumbling block to keeping them engaged. We know that text reminders are effective, but they’re only useful if they can be read.

Reacting to the pandemic

  The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown our health, and the implications of poor health, under a spotlight.

Personal health management companies, like businesses across the country, were forced overnight to find ways of working remotely. We work with a number of personal health management companies providing them with interpreting services to increase their reach. Through our work with the One You Leeds campaign we have helped people make positive lifestyle changes, despite their lack of proficiency in the English language.   

Prior to the pandemic the One You Leeds’ health coaches would meet with attendees in person, and, if necessary, would be joined by an interpreter via speaker telephone. Under the new Covid-secure rules all appointments would now be held remotely.

Within days we managed to configure their language service so that a professional interpreter can join a meeting via conference call. Our services are easy to use and thankfully the health coaches have quickly learned to use the service with minimal disruption. Our online booking system helps health coaches to easily continue to access language services while working from home.

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