The Celtic Tongue of Wales Strengthens – Health Care Services Must be Offered in Welsh and English

‘The Welsh Government is committed to delivering high-quality health, social services and social care services that are centred on peoples’ needs. Our vision is to provide a service that will satisfy the needs of Welsh speakers and their families or carers, by ensuring that they are able to receive services in their own language through the care process. “– Welsh Government

In June of last year a report from Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws highlighted concerns raised by Welsh speaking patients about deficiencies in healthcare services provided in Welsh.   The report said 90% of Welsh speakers agreed that they have the right to express themselves in Welsh when dealing with health services. The report found that only a troubling 28% of Welsh speakers’ previous experiences with primary care were through the medium of the Celtic tongue and 82% viewed Welsh language service as a right.  The report came after a number of high-profile cases in which Welsh speakers were not provided appropriate services in their language.  When the report was issued Huws stated: “I have been very concerned to hear of some worrying experiences that Welsh speakers and their families have had to face in not being able to access healthcare appropriate to their needs. I truly hope that this report is the beginning of the end to such experiences”.

Spurred on by the words of Commissioner Huws, action has now been taken. The Welsh government has announced that Welsh language services in the health and social care services are to be strengthened to ensure respect for Welsh speakers. The core of the new policy is that everyone seeking health and social services will be offered services in Welsh without having to specifically request Welsh language service providers, thus making the Welsh health care system bi-lingual.

The long-term impact on the health of the Welsh language is similar to a recent ruling that came down in October of this year that mandated certain services provided across the public sector must be offered in Welsh.  The impacted state agencies have been given six months to draft and implement procedures to ensure availability of Welsh speaking staff to provide service to customers who choose Welsh.  The result of both rulings is to enhance the economic benefit of Welsh proficiency as more jobs in the Welsh economy are going to require Welsh language skills.  This gives a welcome advantage to Welsh speakers in the market place.  In the final analysis it is economic relevance that is the foundation of a modern vibrant healthy language.

On assuming her post in 2012, Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws stated: “I will be a voice for the Welsh Language, acting on behalf of Welsh speakers. That is my promise.  As I prepare to undertake this work, my vision is of Wales where the Welsh language is central to public life, where Welsh speakers have the confidence to use Welsh and trust in the law to right any injustice they may suffer for using the Welsh language."  Huws is living up to her words.  

As a final note, the Welsh Government’s web page defines the impact of the ruling as follows: “The aim…is to ensure a greater level of recognition among service providers that the use of the Welsh language is a matter of choice, which is especially important for many vulnerable people and their families who need to access services in their first language, such as older people suffering from dementia or stroke who may lose their second language or very young children who may only speak Welsh. As part of the Welsh Government’s strengthened approach, the Welsh NHS, social services and social care services will need to place the ‘Active Offer’ at the centre of service provision by proactively providing a service in Welsh without someone having to ask for it.”

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