Health experts demand Welsh services to protect ‘most vulnerable’

Doctor shaking hands


A group of health professionals have called for clear rights for patients to receive services in Welsh from primary care providers like GPs and pharmacists in an open letter to the Welsh Government.

The letter to Minister Eluned Morgan, signed by over thirty health practitioners, comes as officials prepare to publish language duties in the health system ahead of a vote in the Assembly in the next few weeks.

“This is particularly important as we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, at a time in their life when communicating in Welsh is very important for their health and for ensuring the best possible treatment,” the letter says.

The Government is expected to publish the regulations, known as the Welsh Language Standards, before Christmas.

The draft regulations, which were consulted on last year, excluded primary care services. That meant that there would be no legal rights for people to receive services in the Welsh language from GPs, dentists, opticians or pharmacists under the Government’s original proposals.

That was despite a clear recommendation from the Welsh Language Commissioner, following detailed research, that they should be included.

In response to the letter, the Welsh Government said that they were working with those that provide health and social services to ensure that they voluntarily provide a Welsh language service, particularly for the aged and small children.


The letter, which has been signed by GPs, pharmacists, opticians and other health workers, says that it is important that “front-line service providers” are not exempted from the proposed Standards.

“We are concerned that your draft regulations do not guarantee Welsh language rights for the public in their interactions with primary care providers in the health service,” they say.

“As you know, these services are the public’s main point of contact with the health service, so it is crucial that patients are able to access primary care services in Welsh throughout the country.

“We believe therefore that primary care service providers must be subject to the Welsh language Standards under the same statutory framework as the health boards and other health bodies.

“Steps must be taken to ensure that proposed legislation and subordinate legislation reflect the need to promote the Welsh language in primary care services.

“A significant body of international research supports such an approach.

“We, therefore, urge you to amend the draft regulations so that people have robust rights in these crucial areas.”

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  1. It’s disgusting that primary care services should even have been considered for exemption from providing services in Cymraeg. We all know that voluntarism doesn’t work, and it’s not as if the current requirements are onerus, quite the opposite, they don’t go far enough in my opinion. In general, the Welsh Assembly Government is indifferent to the extension of the provision of services provided through Cymraeg, which does not bode well for their policy of achieving a million speakers of Cymraeg by 2050. We’re talking about the national language here, which should be integral to all considerations of government policy. .

    .If the WAG is genuinely serious about a real, living future for Cymraeg then it has to start regarding the language seriously, and ensuring that citizens can access services through Cymraeg wherever they live in Cymru. Too often the WAG drags it’s feet over the issue of Cymraeg, through not insisting that all recipient organisations of government funding of any kind have polices in place that regard the two official languages of Cymru on a like for like basis – which quite simply means that if something is provided in English, then it must also be provided in Cymraeg. What could be more simple than that? No need for expensive bureaucracy, no need for long winded debates, and a government policy that for once that is starkly simple to understand. There are situations where it would be pointless, or uneconomic to provide everything in Cymraeg as well as English, but I believe that there should be a presumption of complete bilingualism, and exceptions allowed on a case by case basis, such as, for example, the provision of technical manuals for obscure processes only likely to be used by a very small number of people, or for perhaps, on a wider scale, for the medical profession, but even in this case, discussion should be encouraged in Cymraeg so that a vocabulary develops over time.

    The above is of course, no small potatoes, and of course could not be achieved overnight, but I believe that what is needed is a real, demonstrable commitment to Cymraeg with a roadmap and timetable for achieving real parity of service in both languages rather than the current set of policies that can, at best, only elevate the speakers of Cymraeg to second class citizen, at best.

    • I have been fortunate to have been reasonably fluent in Welsh and English throughout my life. Given the mess that prevails in the NHS due to chronic underfunding, poor resource management, and a range of self inflicted damage by users ( booze, fags, diet etc etc ) I have tended to accept that getting the service straightened out first and give the language its rightful place after was the way to go about it.

      However it’s now becoming quite apparent that acceptance of that order of priorities suggests we could wait for ever. The NHS continues to deteriorate under the pressures mentioned above so no prospect of resolution there yet. In the meantime patients, particularly elderly or those struck by dementia or stroke victims, for example, are at considerable disadvantage where they cannot discuss their situation in their first language and where possibly their use of English is damaged by their condition.

      Is any priority attached to the recruitment, training, and retention of Welsh speakers into the key Healthcare professions ? I see no evidence. Indeed the rush to recruitment of talent overseas was a sound short term measure but if anything it worsened the predicament of natives whose fluencies are damaged. Time now to develop a strategy which aims squarely at achievement of a demographic profile capable of addressing the natives needs while also able to deal with the monoglot Anglo population. Student doctors and nurses ( whether to degree or diploma basis ) should be employed on apprenticeship contracts thus diverting them from the ridiculous student load/debt shambles and retained on “key worker ” contracts for a carefully thought out post qual period. Lot of planning and budgetting needed for this but at a time when governments seem able to continue with a hot air and circus agenda some resources must be available for redeployment.

      • Sibrydionmawr

        I think it’t always been a case where speakers of Cymraeg are somewhat over a barrel when it comes to the provision of vital services, as for the past few generations the vast majority of Cymraeg speakers also speak English at least tolerably well. However, it’s also be a ruse used to add delay after delay to respecting the rights of Cymraeg speakers, as it’s easy to find other priorities, so the linguistic needs of Cymraeg speakers get kicked into the long grass.

        As you point out, those with the greatest need for services in Cymraeg are those who are aged, and perhaps afflicted with dementia who will feel far more comfortable being able to speak their own language.

        I’d argue that there is no real reason why Welsh has to take a back seat other than because it hasn’t been planned for, or indeed, been part of a mainstream policy, and has tended to be an also-ran or added as an afterthought. Perhaps the policy reccomendations of the Welsh Local Government Association could be looked at as regards the Welsh language, as they have adopted an intersectional approach to the language issue, which disallows the usual excuses for excluding the Cymraeg , effectively normalising and mainstreaming Cymraeg . I know that even a cursory glance at our local authorities will show that this isn’t exactly the situation that we as speaker of Cymraeg face when we try to access services in our preferred language, but none the less, this has been the recommended approach from the WLGA since at least 2008.

  2. This is something that means a lot to me personally and should go beyond political gesturing and politicking. It is a serious issue. I know from first hand experience that there are people out there with conditions like Alzheimer’s where communication becomes increasingly difficult and distressing, people who absolutely need the support of medical professionals and support workers who can communicate in Welsh.

    I’m amazed that we set this as such a low priority – it displays a real lack of humanity, from the very services and professions we expect the most from in these tragic situations.

  3. I want to post an unrelated comment here, just a a pause for thought really and because I’m not really academically qualified to write an article on here, but I wanted to map the demise of the language in Wales with the growth of another phenomena that swept across the land that no-one ever seems to touch on.

    The demise of the language to me seems to correlate nicely with the growth of the free time that people gained late in the industrial revolution. The Butlins and bingo culture if you like. To me this had a far greater impact on the language than almost anything else. This had a massive impact on the south wales valleys and leaves a profound legacy to this day.

    It introduced a ne type of working class British culture that people could relate to, it gave kids great memories and I believe fundamentally changed our society.

    Food for thought?

    • you are referring to what is commonly regarded as Anglo American “pop” culture or part of it, a culture that evolved rapidly once young people in particular had some disposable income and “leisure time”. There were other corrosive factors at work earlier, but this wave is a post WW2, probably post mid 50’s phenomenon and it’s grown as those who enjoyed it way back say in the 60’s have to some extent stayed with it especially as it is unavoidable unless you use TV and other media sparingly. Hard to tell these days whether media responds to user demand or whether it creates new additional demands.

  4. Just read what Dr Sally Baker says on her own blog or her contributions on Jac o’the North

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