Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Mail Says: 'Foreign Nurses Forced To Take English Lessons'...

...So It Must Be True?

Ah yes! The Daily Mail, in its xenophobic Spitfires-over-the-cliffs-of-Dover and Churchill-fighting-the-damn-foreigners-on-the-beaches world, is at it again, revealing the startling news that (as the Telegraph puts it in its more sedate rehash of the Mail's story), 'NHS trust employs staff from 70 countries' - "Managers at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals in Oxford have arranged for employees to take English lessons after patients complained that they could not make themselves understood."

Except that the Mail's original version is slightly more sensationalist, 'Revealed: Hospital has staff from 70 countries as nurses who don't even understand 'nil by mouth' forced to take English lessons' [note the word 'forced'] - "An NHS hospital has staff from a staggering 70 countries on its payroll. The huge number of overseas nurses, cleaners and porters has forced health chiefs to send them on ten-week English courses because many do not understand basic medical phrases."

And how do we know this to be the case? You can bet your bottom dollar that the NHS Trust did not press-release the story. Of course not, far too obvious a target for Mail-like sensationalism. So, in sightly torturous English, the Telegraph reveals who did, "Many nurses and other front-line staff at the hospitals have such poor language skills that they are unable to read or write English, patient groups said."

The aforementioned 'patient group(s)' was, according to the Mail, the Oxford Radcliffe Patients' Forum, or to be more accurate, one Jacquie Pearce-Gervis,* who apparently "called last night for English lessons to be made compulsory rather than voluntary." The Telegraph, who appear to have checked her bona fides before publishing, identified her as spokeswoman for "Patient Voice, the Oxfordshire-based campaign group". And a quick search of the internet reveals that she was certainly a member of the 'Oxford Radcliffe Patients' Forum'** in 2006 (the most recent listing on the Trust's website) but most recently she has been a member of the Oxford-based or Oxfordshire-based group 'Patients Voice', depending on who one reads. Whether this is the same group as the pro-vivisection Oxford-based group Patients' Voice for Medical Advance we do not know.

However, it would appear that all one needs to do to get a story in the Mail, whatever group one claims to represent, is to ring up some dodgy Mail journo or the 'News' desk itself with some juicy titbit about damn foreigners causing good English stock some form of upset and Bob's your uncle (or aunty as the case maybe be, though she wouldn't get any favourable space if she were the later).

Anyway, to get back to the Mail: "Among the terms some workers from countries such as Burma, the Philippines and Poland can't follow are 'nil by mouth', 'doing the rounds' and 'bleeping a doctor'." Err! Why that particular choice of countries? Burma possibly, the Philippines less obviously, but Poland!? Clearly Poles (swan-eating shed-squatters) are now up there with the French (cheese-eating surrender monkeys, though they do want to ban the burqa) and Germans (the Boche - no can't use that word, its French - started WWI, WWII and the EU along with the French and always beating England on penalties at the World Cup) on the Mail's list of countries to hate.

Now here's the juicy bit, the meat (or TVP) in the sandwich of this story: "The lessons follow several 'near-disaster' cases, including one where a meal was delivered to a patient because a member of staff did not understand that 'nil by mouth' meant the man could not eat or drink." Disturbing, especially as the headline implied that this was due to "nurses who don't even understand 'nil by mouth'."

Reading on through the article, after learning that "all doctors from outside the EU must pass an English language test set by the General Medical Council before they can practise" and that "the same rules do not apply for other hospital workers", except that nurses and porters of course do not practice medicine and therefore do not have to take the GMC tests. "Instead, they are usually assessed on their grasp of the language at interview."

OK then? Except, "the problem has become so acute at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals that foreign workers are being encouraged to attend ten-week, taxpayer-funded 'English For Speakers Of Other Languages' courses, which are run by a nearby college."

So exactly how bad is this 'problem'? The Mail seems reluctant to actually say. It does reveal the interesting 'factoid' that "research has found that up to a quarter of nurses - more than 60,000 - working in London are foreign, with the largest number coming from the Philippines." What research this is the article does not reveal, or why the facts about London are relevant to Oxford and a hospital (or is that a hospital trust, not necessarily the same thing) that the paper clearly implies has much more of a 'problem' with foreign staff as they surely would be leading with the banner 'London hospitals employ staff from 70 countries' or some such rubbish?

Then we get a list of some hospitals in London and that "Manchester Royal Infirmary also has a high proportion of foreign staff from countries including India, Ghana, Spain, Germany, Iceland and the Yemen." Outstanding journalism! But probably nicked from a 2002 edition of the Independent.*** And its only then that we learn, both that this earth-shattering story is due to this Ms Pearce-Gervis calling "last night for English lessons to be made compulsory rather than voluntary."

And, wait for it, "There have been cases when porters have delivered a patient food despite the fact there is a clear sign on their bed saying "nil by mouth"." So it is NOT nurses who don't understand the phrase 'nil by mouth', it is porters delivering food to patients who apparently do not understand it. And even then we have no evidence that the food being delivered to the bed of someone due to have an operation was because the porters could not read English or because they got mixed up over who was having what meal, a mistake that we are sure no English-reading porters has ever made.

And even then, in the very next sentence, Ms Pearce-Gervis states "obviously this could have led to disaster but fortunately THE PATIENT [our emphasis] has been intelligent enough to point out that they are not allowed the food." So it was only one patient, as the Mail itself claimed earlier in the article. One case and even then there's no evidence presented of possible 'disaster' if the patient had gone ahead and eaten the food.

So what do Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust have to say on the subject? After a short anonymous quote from 'a member of staff at the trust' ("I think it should be compulsory. There can often be problems with common slang terms used on the ward." - something that 10 weeks of English lessons are not necessarily going to solve) and as many column inches of space dedicated to Dr Daniel Ubani, the German (naturally) GP involved in the death of a patient through the administration of a massive overdose of a painkiller he had never used before, but who also happened to have failed the GMC language test, their spokesperson, Rainy Faisey, deputy director of human resources at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals, claimed that the courses were a way of giving staff in lower-paid jobs a chance to develop their skills.

"As an employer, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust offers a wide variety of training and development opportunities to its staff to help them to provide excellent care for our patients and further their career in the NHS. Like all good employers we give all staff the opportunity to develop their reading, writing and numeracy skills, whether their first language is English or not."

So, all in all, another xenophobic Mail non-story. And NO nurses are in fact being "forced to take English lessons."

* Who a back copy of the May 2004 issue of ORH News helpfully tells us "began work at the Radcliffe Infirmary as a shorthand typist when she was 17 and worked in the NHS for 20 years before re-training as a teacher in further education."
** As an aside, the Oxford Radcliffe Patients' Forum or Patient and Public Involvement Forum or the Oxfordshire and Berkshire Consortium for Patient and Public Involvement in Health (or even Oxfordshire and Berkshire Consortium for Patient and Public Involvement in Health depending on which NHS trust website one visits) no longer appears to exist in one or maybe all of its previous forms. Certainly neither of the websites [1, 2] are up and running and there is no mention of it in recent issues of the ORH News.
If, however, you live in the Oxford area, you can apply to join the panel by filling out this form. And maybe you'll get to meet the famous Ms Pearce-Gervis who the Mail is happy to dedicate so much of its valuable advertising space to.
*** This really does show up how little research goes in to this sort of story. No doubt the journo Google a few hospitals abd came up with the Independent article 'Why foreign nurses hold the nation's health in their hands', which contains the following information: "Indian nurses now account for one in ten of the infirmary's nursing workforce." Followed by: "In addition, a dozen other countries supply staff, including the Philippines, Australia, Spain, Ghana, Germany, Iceland and the Yemen."

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