OBJECTIVES: The inadequate provision of language interpretation for people with limited English proficiency (LEP) is a determinant of poor health, yet interpreters are underused. This research explores the experiences of National Health Service (NHS) staff providing primary care for people seeking asylum, housed in contingency accommodation during COVID-19. This group often have LEP and face multiple additional barriers to healthcare access. Language discrimination is used as a theoretical framework. The potential utility of this concept is explored as a way of understanding and addressing inequities in care.
DESIGN: Qualitative research using semistructured interviews and inductive thematic analysis.
SETTING: An NHS primary care service for people seeking asylum based in contingency accommodation during COVID-19 housing superdiverse residents speaking a wide spectrum of languages.
PARTICIPANTS: Ten staff including doctors, nurses, mental health practitioners, healthcare assistants and students participated in semistructured online interviews. Some staff were redeployed to this work due to the pandemic.
RESULTS: All interviewees described patients' LEP as significant. Inadequate provision of interpretation services impacted the staff's ability to provide care and compromised patient safety. Discrimination, such as that based on migration status, was recognised and challenged by staff. However, inequity based on language was not articulated as discrimination. Instead, insufficient and substandard interpretation was accepted as the status quo and workarounds used, such as gesticulating or translation phone apps. The theoretical lens of language discrimination shows how this propagates existing social hierarchies and further disadvantages those with LEP.
CONCLUSIONS: This research provides empirical evidence of how the inadequate provision of interpreters forces the hand of healthcare staff to use shortcuts. Although this innovative 'tinkering' allows staff to get the job done, it risks normalising structural gaps in care provision for people with LEP. Policy-makers must rethink their approach to interpretation provision which prioritises costs over quality. We assert that the concept of language discrimination is a valuable framework for clinicians to better identify and articulate unfair treatment on the grounds of LEP.
- health equity
- health services accessibility
- organisation of health services
- primary health care
- quality in health care