Language Barriers and Access to Health Services in the Community

In part two of a three-part interview, Dianna Djokey interviews local Mental Health Community Development Worker and co-ordinator of Portsmouth’s Cross Cultural Women’s Group, Shipa Ahmed Khan, about her work with vulnerable women from minority communities, and the impact of language barriers on access to health services.

Dianna Djokey: Have you seen a rise in calls to your service?

Shipa Ahmed Khan: We’ve done welfare checks [so] we’ve been able to manage that spike. I have been getting a few more calls than normally.

It’s sometimes giving people that bit of reassurance, like yes, it’s a difficult time, but our services are still available. In particular, I’ve had maybe one or two ladies who have found it very difficult to get access to the GP. With an interpreter, they’ve gone to their GP or they’ve had phone conversations but not really understood what’s been said, so they’ve had to make another call, another appointment. It’s been difficult but the way I’ve worked around that is when women are going for their appointments or for their blood tests, they let me know and I send them a text message containing the information that they can show to the receptionist.

Another lady [I work with] goes to the GP for blood tests but she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her condition and is unable to convey to the receptionist that she needs an interpreter because it’s wasting the GP’s time and the surgery’s time. Because they don’t have that in place she has to go again for the same issues. It’s little things like that we have to sort of figure out, little ways that we can support people in the community. Sometimes people ask me to come with them but that’s not within my role to do, but I’m happy to write a little message and try and encourage people to help themselves a bit more as well.

Have people found it easy to access services and community support groups?

It’s been difficult as it comes down to how much that individual is aware of what is available in the community. So for some people, they’re very aware, we’ve got HIVE in Portsmouth [which has] been coordinating a lot of support around Covid and signposting people to prescription services. For other people that don’t have that support at home, they found it difficult because they don’t know where to start: [for example] who do I go to, I don’t have access to the internet so I don’t have access to HIVE, and if I’ve got a phone number, I can’t speak the language so what am I going to say on the phone? So you really have to boil it down to the very basics.

I have quite a few groups that I’m linked with so I’ve just given out information if there’s anyone, your neighbor, friends, family, that doesn’t have access, these are the places [to] go where you can get support on their behalf. During Covid I have [also] organized lots of food packs for people from a community so that’s quite telling. You know people are struggling, but probably not always knowing where to go to get that extra support and help.

As a team, have you been supported? 

We’re part of Portsmouth City Council so we have supervision in place, but we also have a smaller team. We do team meetings via Zoom, and we have socially distanced meetings in the park just so that we can support one another as colleagues, but also to find out from each other what different issues are with different community groups and that’s helped and been quite useful.

The type of work you do can be extremely taxing. How has that impacted you?

It’s been difficult, I must admit. It’s been difficult in the sense that I’m working from home. We don’t have access to the normal resources that we would have and as Community Development workers, we’re not able to go out. It’s trying to find ways of contacting community members, working in a slightly different way [and] reaching out, but it has been tough.

S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • BAME communities
  • people with disabilities

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