Archive for July, 2011

Should carers be able to speak fluent English?

July 5, 2011

As our population includes more people needing fulltime care, it is harder for homes to get good staff, staff that will be efficient and effective so that patients are as healthy as they can be:  – well hydrated, fed and cleaned. A recent visit to a home brought out another vital asset that carers must have. A carer not only needs to be able to do the job efficiently, they need to show the right attitude and be able to reflect this in their language.

Consider this situation: The wife of a patient entered the home where her husband is a patient. The place was clean and the patients quiet, except for one voice – the voice of her husband. When she entered his room, he was obviously distressed; he was shedding tears. He looked as if he was in an uncomfortable position. No staff could be seen. Why were they not checking on him? The wife eventually found a carer writing on his clipboard. When she asked for help, he began to say in broken English that the patient would be attended to when the shift changed.  The wife stood her ground. Reluctantly, the carer found another member of staff and they moved the patient. The noise continued. There was still something wrong. Before the staff left the room the wife suggested they might check to see if her husband needed changing. He did. ‘You can go to the sitting room’ the carer said to the wife. Summarily dismissed, the wife stood in the sitting room a little nonplussed. She had come to see her husband, precious time was being wasted. When she was permitted to enter her husband’s room, he was no longer in tears although he was still shouting but automatically, the distress had gone from his cries. As the wife was leaving he commented to the carer.

‘He is not happy’

‘He will be happy,’ the carer seemed to dictate.

The wife left concerned for her husband’s welfare. If the carer was so completely unaware of her feelings how could he understand her husband’s needs? She expressed her concerns to the manager.

She visited her husband again and the same carer was on duty.

‘You upset me.’ he said to her while she was sitting next to her husband. ‘I say something to you. I said to you ‘You can go to the sitting room’. I am good carer.’ And in his imperfect English lectured the wife on how wrong she was.  His harsh language filled the room with tension and aggression.

The wife was now upset and her visit to see her husband ruined.

If the carer had been able to couch his messages with more appropriate and thoughtful language, none of the issues would have been raised. If he had been able to say, ‘You may stay while we are changing your husband if you want to but it could be unpleasant for you, so you could wait in the sitting room until we have finished if you like.’ This would have given the wife choice; this would not have been received as an unwelcome command.

Until homes insist on carers being able to express themselves well in English, patients will experience a new form of cruelty, cruelty that comes from those with limited English trying to cover their deficiency with defensive, aggressive and non-negotiable language, behaviour and attitudes. No matter how practically efficient a carer may be, no matter how good they are at attending to patients’ physical needs and to filling in clipboards, they will not be able to do their job properly until they can act according to their job title suggests: a carer needs to care and to express this care appropriately. Where the health of our families is concerned, a good command of English is a necessity, not a luxury.