While I’m Away…

I’m off to Nottingham tomorrow for another surgical review.  I last saw the surgeon in June, just 12 days after the 4-hour operation on my head. He was pleased with my progress at that stage and asked me to return again a month later. I never got to that appointment thanks to the development of an unforeseen complication. Before consenting to surgery, I was warned of the dangers of the operation. Osteomyelitis was not on that list but it sure is now! I hope to have more news to share with you when I get back.


I have something for you to ponder on while I’m away. While undergoing prolonged treatment in hospital for the osteomyelitis, it was very noticeable how few Irish nurses were working in the system. It was a large teaching hospital with the usual cohort of trainee nurses on the wards but there were very few fully trained Irish nurses to be seen. The majority of the nurses were recruited from overseas, from the Philippines and India. These nurses were highly trained and  professional except in one regard. While working on the wards, they had a tendency to speak to one another in their native tongue. As a patient, I found this disconcerting as it excluded me from discussions concerning my own care. I wondered if there was a hospital policy requiring staff to speak in English only, while on duty. Do you have any views on this?

22 Responses to While I’m Away…

  1. Bendy Girl says:

    Good luck with the journey Steph & hope it’s all good news from the surgeon!
    I believe that if people want to live and work in an English speaking country they should speak English, or learn to properly. Money spent on translation services would be far better put into free English lessons. If I lived in another country I would expect to learn to speak whichever language it spoke. I fear political correctness often becomes an excuse for politicians not to address these problems.
    BG x

  2. Annb says:

    Best of luck and safe journey to you Steph, I really hope you get some relief.

    As for the language question, I agree that English should be required on the wards, I have often had to ask nurses to repeat what they said in English. Sometimes people can revert to their native tongue without even noticing it and just need a gentle reminder to change back to English. I think hospital management need to set down clear regulation about the use of English, but do you really see management being that sensible?

    I’m sure issues like this can’t be good for your head! Matron will be on to you if you’re not taking it easy.

    Take care

  3. Grannymar says:

    Matron is watching and Annb is correct you should be resting for the journey tomorrow. Take care.

  4. mike says:

    Good Luck with the review. I hope all goes well.

  5. Steph says:

    Bendy – Thanks! It’ll be a long day tomorrow. Leaving about 6am and won’t get home until 11pm approx.

    The overseas nurses have very good English although their pronunciation can be problematic at times. My objection was the fact that they chose to speak to one another in their native tongue, while on duty. They only spoke in English when addressing a patient directly or dealing with Irish staff. I felt excluded by their conversation and wondered if the Irish staff felt likewise.

    Ann – Thanks also. I’ve lots of questions ready to fire at the surgeon. He kept in contact with me and the surgical team while I was in hospital in Ireland so he’s had plenty of forewarning!

    I too had to ask the overseas nurses to repeat instructions at times as I couldn’t understand their English pronunciation. If I was having trouble, then I would imagine that elderly people probably find it difficult too.

    I, too, believe that regulation is required as regards the use of English only while on duty and if it’s already in place, then it should be enforced.

    Did you get Matron onto my case? She’s after me now 😮

    Grannymar – Hello Matron! Why, yes of course I’m resting. I haven’t moved from my computer all day 😉

    Mike – Hi! Thanks for your well wishes. Jaimie is accompanying me to Nottingham tomorrow to keep tabs on me!

  6. Baino says:

    Oh Steph, I thought you’d been a little quiet. Not good news at all, you are a magnet for rare conditions and the very best of luck to you today I hope finally they can do something to relieve your condition. You’re a brave soldier, you really are. As for the nurses. I can’t say I blame them for speaking their native tongue but you could just ask them to speak English around you. It’s a common problem here in such a multicultural country but people don’t mean to be rude, it’s just easier to get the point across in your native tongue. Best of luck to you and I’m sorry I’ve been so tardy with my communications lately. Much love.

  7. Lily says:

    Steph, as I write this comment I do hope you are tucked up in bed asleep for your early rise in the morning. Have a safe trip and I hope it is very useful.

  8. anonymous says:

    Your comment reminded me of the care givers for my elderly mother in the days leading up to her death. All of them were immigrants and they weren’t easily understood. Though they tried their best, if they had been locals not only would my partially deaf mother have understood them much better, but they would have instantly understood the intonation and intent of what she was saying to them. Communication would have been very much better and not so frustrating for her.
    Wishing you well as you go for your surgical review Steph. I sure admire your courage and fortitude.

  9. Ian says:

    Think you could be in constitutional trouble – the status of Irish as first national language gives a right not to speak English – admittedly there are few speaking Irish, though in other contexts I have heard Irish people using the language to say something that cannot be understood by others present – but it does mean that the use of English cannot be compelled

  10. Grannymar says:

    I have been pondering this language issue. Perhaps those nurses were double checking a procedure in the language they fully understood and were comfortable with, surely that would be to your benefit in the long run.

  11. Steph says:

    Baino – Thanks! I’ll report on my appointment shortly.

    As regards the issue of non-English being spoken on the wards, I agree that the nurses didn’t mean to be rude. What I did dislike was nurses having a conversation (in another language) around my bed while changing sheets/dispensing medication etc. Staff interaction is important to patients and it’s not pleasant to be ignored.

    Lily – Thanks 😀 I was indeed well tucked up by then but I did receive your comment when I turned on my computer while having a very early ‘brekkie on the go’ yesterday.

    anonymous – Thank you! Your message popped up just minutes before I left for the airport yesterday and your kind words were much appreciated!

    I’m sorry if I brought back memories of a sad time for you. I totally understand what you mean as I’ve witnessed a similar situation with my own mother who’s in a nursing home. Having said that, some of the best nurses/carers I’ve met have been non-nationals and generally, I find that they have a great love and respect for the elderly.

  12. Steph says:

    Ian – I knew when I raised this topic that it might sit uncomfortably with some as it could be construed as being not politically correct or even, racist. That was not my intention. I simply wanted to sound out other people’s views as I was surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be any hospital policy in place, in this regard.

    Grannymar – I take your point but what I witnessed was nurses laughing and chatting together in their own language while carrying out patient care duties. Their English was of a high standard so I do not believe that they needed to revert to their native tongue for professional purposes. Patients enjoy banter with staff but when language is a barrier, this benefit is denied.

  13. Jeanie says:

    Hi Steph hope Nottingham news was good. Thinking of you. xx

  14. Steph says:

    Jeanie – I’ve just returned from that magical place where you and I watched the dolphins dance at sunset. Just wish you could have been there this time too!

    I haven’t had a chance as yet to write a blog post about the day in Nottingham. All will be explained shortly.

  15. Chris T says:

    I know this is a very late response but this issue is close to my heart. I work as a nurse in the USA and we have quite a few health care workers in my rural hospital from the Phillipines and Korea. Most speak English fairly well with a strong accent. Due to amny nationalities working in American medical facilities, most work places have had to institute policies stating that while in the workplace, staff must speak English unless they are on break and away from patient care areas. Due to illness, old prejudice (this is seldom the cause), or fear many patients had complained nation-wide that they thought staff had been talking about them or hiding the depth of their illness when medical staff were speaking in their native tongue around the patient. As a nurse it is also difficult to bond and work together as a team (very important) when co-workers insisted on speaking their native tongue in the work place. In general I like to hear and try to learn new languages but it’s simply not appropriate to do in the workplace.While in patient care ares speaking English is beneficial to patients, co-workers and the other nationalities by helping the non-enlish learn our language and slang better. it also helps us to learn to understand their accents better so that during a crisis noone has to repeat or guess at what the other is saying.

  16. Steph says:

    Chris T – Hello and welcome to this blog.

    Thank you for your interesting comment. I agree wholeheartedly with your point of view re speaking English in the workplace. Both staff and patient morale can be affected when exclusion is caused by a language barrier. While I’m sure these days, most hospitals have policies in place to prevent non-nationals reverting to their native tongue while ‘on duty’, I wonder how often it is enforced? If my experience in Irish hospitals is anything to go by, the language policy is certainly not being adhered to.

    I’d be very interested to hear from any hospital worker who has experience of this policy being enforced?

  17. Chris T says:

    I’ve worked in 3 American hospitals since these issues have arisen.The most current hospital I worked at the language policy has been strictly enforced.Partially due to co-worker complaint and partially due to patient complaints. The policy became even more restricted to include the cafeteria where staff and patients families eat because of family member complaints. I think this was mainly due to paranoia that staff may have been talking about this persons family member, which was not the case, and a bit of racism. a few members of this rural community have issues with the employment of “foreigners” because they do not understand that it is impossible to staff with US citizens only. You can’t use US citizens only when there is such a shortage of quailified personnel. I do believe that not allowing one to speek their native tongue at lunch, in a relaxed non-patient care area is a bit too restrictive.
    In my experience here, you’re best bet as a patient trying to get the policy enforced is to complain to the nurse or supervisorr in charge. If that doesn’t work then write a letter to the administrator of the facility. Follow this up with letters to the newspaper if your previouscomplaints have not been heard. I don’t know about health care in Ireland, but here in the US a compliant like this written in even a small town newspaper definitely makes issues be addressed. Many times the newspaper itself doesn’t have to do an article on it.The patient just writes in to the newspaper as an op-ed piece or a tiny classified ad where they publish thank-you notes. Health care facilities here are very aware of public relations and are afraid of any bad press. I guess this is one of the few benefits to private healthcare. Alas, one of the very few benefits.

  18. Steph says:

    Chris T – Thanks again.

    It’s good to hear that you have experience of a language policy being enforced and I agree with you, it’s OTT to have this enforcement extended to the hospital cafeteria.

    The Irish health service is in total disarray at the moment. For years we had a recruitment policy to employ nurses from abroad on temporary contracts but we now have an employment embargo in place which means that Irish-trained nurses can no longer get jobs in Ireland on qualification. We’re now in the ridiculous situation where we’re exporting all our Irish nurses to the UK and further afield while our health service is staffed by non-nationals 🙄

  19. paul says:

    Hi, I am an Irish nurse, working in a non-english speaking country, so I know what it is like to be on the other end of this discussion. Naturally, I always use the language of the country on the ward, with co-workers and with patients, I don’t have any english speaking colleagues, but if I did, of course I would speak in english to them when it was appropriate to do so. The problem is that most Irish people have emigrated to or lived in english speaking countries (usa, uk, australia etc.) and have no idea of what it is like to have to conduct your life through a completely different language. Do you really imagine 3 Irish nurses working in say, Spain, wouldn’t speak english to each other? Of course they would, probably even on the ward if they could get away with it, to check things etc. Can you imagine not speaking english with another english-speaking person? It seems silly to communicate with someone in language x when you know their native language is english. So, I imagine this is how all the Filipino, Indian etc. nurses feel. Just a thought! By the way, I have lived in Europe, in non-english speaking countries for years and the Irish and British are notoriously bad at learning other languages. I know people who have lived here where I live for 10 years and barely speak a word of the language, because you can survive with english almost everywhere.

  20. Steph says:

    Paul – Hello and welcome!

    It’s great to get your comment on this topic and fair dues to you for pointing out the other side of the coin.

    I tend to agree with you that if Irish/British nurses are working together in a non-English speaking hospital, there must be a real temptation to speak English rather than to communicate in language X. I’ve no problem with that as long as they don’t speak English in front of non-English speaking patients.

    I speak from personal experience when I say that it’s unnerving for patients to find themselves excluded from conversation on the ward, by a language barrier.

    Thanks for joining in the discussion!

  21. Chris says:

    I agree with Paul in that it should be okay for nurses to check each others work in their native language but this should/would be done away from patient care areas and short-to the point.I can only imagine how lonely and isolating it would feel to be away from your heritage/home base, surrounded by unusual customs, language, etc. It must feel like reaching an oasis when you meet up with someone from your homeland. But, native language conversations must be had away from patient care areas. This would include the nursing station. If absolutely necessary to double check info with a co-worker, and only if it would facilitate patient safety and not done out of ease and comfort for yourself, then a short convo in your native tongue might be ok. I still believe that this could hinder open communication with the rest of your peers. And if you do your double checking with a co-worker in that nations tongue then other co-workers could also join in and help with med/tx info. Learning is a community project. It’s important on so many levels to speak in the countries primary language in the work environment. On break, lunch, away from pt care areas,etc speak in Klingon if you want. These are your private conversations and you should be able to do as you see fit.
    Obviously,as you can tell by my uber-long responses, this topic is dear to my heart. No racism is meant and I admire and respect all nationalities and religions. i find them all fascinating. Work areas just aren’t always the most appropriate places for me to learn about them-which to some extent I find very sad.

  22. Steph says:

    Chris – Hi! there and welcome.

    Thanks for your uber-long response 😉

    It’s very interesting to hear the views of those working at the coal face. I certainly had no racist intent when writing this post. I was merely intrigued to know if there is such a thing as a language policy in place in hospitals and if there is, if it’s ever actually enforced. I’m delighted to find that I’m not alone in thinking that all staff should speak in the primary language of the country they work in, when in the work environment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: