Sunday, February 24, 2013

Doctors Speaking English

Here's something that I believe very strongly.

It's that when you're ill, whether in hospital or at home, you should not, when talking to a doctor, have to struggle to make yourself understood.

Furthermore, you shouldn't be struggling to understand the doctor.

So I welcome this new ruling that, from April, doctors from the European Union will have to prove their skills in English before being put on a list to practice in this country.  There'll also be cross-matching so that if you're turned down for poor language skills in one part of the country you can't pop up in another part of the country and work there.

At the moment you have to prove your language skills if you're from outside the EU, but not if you're from within it.

Does that seem ridiculous to you?  Yes, it does to me too.  If I were a doctor, and I wanted to practise in, say, France, I'd expect them to check that my French was somewhere above the "two glasses of wine, please" level.

Of course, even though many of us have been saying this for years, it took a patient's death to get something done about it.  A German doctor gave a patient a fatal overdose in his first and last shift in the UK.  He'd previously been turned down by Leeds (three cheers for Leeds!) for poor language skills and then taken on by Cambridge.

The trouble is, language is always a sensitive issue - - people can say they're complaining about language skills when they are actually being racist.  "That doctor's English isn't good" can mean "That doctor's foreign and his skin is brown and I don't like that."

I have found, both from experience in real life and in medical roleplay, that a good doctor is good no matter where they are from.  We all tend to have a more ready trust in someone who looks as though they come from the same cultural background as we do - - but take it from me, a good doctor can overcome any distrust in the first minute.

So the fact that some people use language as an excuse for racism shouldn't get in the way of the fundamental issue - - which is that of language.

So they are going to bring in language checks on doctors from the EU; a good thing too.  My only concern is who's going to set the level of language, and how is it to be checked?

One of the things that overseas doctors tend to struggle with is the appropriate level of language, and they sometimes tend to use medical jargon ("hypertension" rather than "high blood pressure") because, as a Malaysian student said to me a few years ago, "It's all English to us."

Who, therefore, will check the language skills?  Doctors?  Patients?  It would be great to provide follow-up assistance too, to help the doctors' English get even better.

It's a crucial area, I think.  I hope that they'll put enough effort and resources into thinking it out.  Many thanks to Silverback for sending me the link to the BBC news item.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

In the Dreamtime, a Lion

I can't believe that it's been so long since I've written a blog post but it's been partly because things have been going remarkably well for my mother.

After her first chemotherapy, the cancer marker in her blood dropped by 60%.  It's still high, but she's a lot better and can now go out into the garden again on her own.  Since then she's had another round of chemotherapy, which went well and didn't give her many after-effects other than to be a bit sleepy for a day or two.

So I've been spending a lot of my spare time - which there isn't much of - with her.   I've been having a good time "in the moment" which, as I've written before, isn't like me at all.

The days have been fine.  However, as is usual with me, if things aren't too bad during the day, then my mind gives me hell when I'm asleep and I have lots of bad dreams.  Some are nightmares - - others just vaguely sad, or vaguely annoying.

Last night the first dream I remember was that I was about to do an open-water swim but I couldn't find anywhere to put my glasses whilst I swam.  All very difficult.

The second one was a bit more odd.  I was auditioning as a presenter for some hospital radio station and I thought that, with all my experience in working with medical students and suchlike, I might be in with a chance.  But sadly, they auditioned everyone else and when it got to my turn the Bright Young Thing in charge - all red lipstick and high heels -  said "I'm sorry, we don't need to see any more."

I was really upset, and said so.  "Ah well," she said, in overly-bright tones.  "At least you came to the audition."

"And how does that benefit me?" I said haughtily, before waking up.

Now I can see that all that kind of thing incorporates lots of my daytime worries - - losing my glasses, not being able to see, not being able to do something I really want to do, the injustice of the way that actors are treated - - - etc etc.

Then I went back to sleep and woke at about six o'clock with a surprisingly optimistic verse in my head.

I think I've said before that this does happen to me sometimes.  I invent rhyming verse in my sleep.  I had an image in my head of a rather jolly lion wearing a top hat covered in sequins - - this lion had the positive, cheery personality of my mother's gentleman friend, and some elements of a children's book that Olli once owned, called The Lion In the Meadow.  But more than that I cannot explain.

Here's the verse: make of it what you will.  If I could paint, I'd paint it.

In Summer the lion's in full twinkly time of his hats.
In Winter he wanders and ponders on thises and thats.
In Spring he turns green, cos he can and for no other reason
And in Autumn he roars, just because it's his favourite season.