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Health Soc Care Community. 2004 Sep;12(5):407-13.

Bridging the language barrier: the use of interpreters in primary care nursing.

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School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.


Language barriers present a major obstacle to minority ethnic communities accessing primary healthcare. Whereas it is recognised that interpreting services are generally inadequate and inappropriate reliance is placed on family members to interpret, little is known about how nurses working in primary care utilise interpreters to overcome language barriers. The present paper reports on a study examining the utilisation of interpreting services by a range of primary care nurses from the perspectives of the nurses, interpreters and minority ethnic communities. Focus groups were undertaken with five separate groups of district nurses, health visitors, practice nurses, community midwives and specialist nurses, three groups of interpreters from different interpreting services, and five groups of participants from the main community languages in the locality where the study was undertaken (i.e. Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, Somali and Urdu). Focus group discussions were tape-recorded and subsequently transcribed. Data analysis drew upon the principles of 'framework' analysis. The use of interpreters by primary care nurses varied considerably. Nurses who had received training in using interpreters and who had most control over the timing of patient visits were more likely to use interpreting services. Inadequate training of both nurses and interpreters adversely affected the quality of interaction where interpreters were used. Primary care nurses acted as gatekeepers to interpreting services. Whereas interpreting services were generally perceived to be inadequate, many nurses were accepting of the status quo and prepared to rely on family members to interpret rather than champion the need to improve services.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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