Your Caregiver's English Language Proficiency Could Be a Matter of Life and Death

Your Caregiver's English Language Proficiency Could Be a Matter of Life and Death

If you are elderly or disabled, would you feel safe having caregivers with inadequate English-language skills?

England has many of the same “diversity” challenges we face in the United States.

The recent death of Barbara Rymell, as reported in The Telegraph, shows us the danger of bringing in foreign caregivers and medical personnel with inadequate English skills.

Mrs. Rymell, age 92 and suffering from dementia, lived at the Ashley House Residential Home in Langport, Somerset, a county in southwestern England.

She was on a stairlift, which is a mechanical device for moving an elderly, infirm or disabled person up or down the stairs.

Against the residential home’s own policy, Barbara was left alone on the stairlift for five minutes. She got off the machine and attempted to walk up the staircase, but she fell back downwards, getting her head caught under the stairlift chair.

This predicament was bad enough, but it wasn’t helped by the inadequate English skills of her caregivers, who called 999 (British equivalent of 911) but couldn’t communicate effectively.

The Telegraph explains the problem: “In a 999 call, her two carers [caregivers], who were Romanian and Indian, were unable to explain to the emergency services what had happened to her and did not understand the difference between the patient being ‘alive’ and ‘alert,' or ‘breathing’ and ‘bleeding.'”

Such a lack of understanding is quite inadequate, especially when dealing with a life and death situation.

“Their lack of English ‘severely hampered’ the call handler’s response and made a ‘meaningful’ assessment of Mrs. Rymell’s condition ‘virtually impossible,' the coroner said. Following the call, her [Barbara’s] case was classified as ‘serious’ rather than requiring an ‘immediate’ response, and when paramedics arrived at the care home she had died.”

Barbara’s death was attributed to dementia, frailty and “mechanical obstruction of respiration."

To her credit, Somerset county coroner Samantha Marsh did not ignore the language problem and has openly addressed it.

“Samantha Marsh, the senior coroner for Somerset, has written to the Home Office and Helen Whately, the minister for social care, to warn of the potential for future deaths if English [language] standards are not addressed. She said the current English test for foreign health staff was ‘wholly insufficient.'”

Based on this case, it sure sounds like it.

“The report found that neither of the care workers was able to clearly explain the medical emergency and that the call handler selected the wrong pathway for treatment. ‘The correct pathway that should have been selected was "entrapment" but at no time during the call did the carer give any information that would have indicated that this was the presenting problem,’ said the report.”

And, “[Coroner] Mrs Marsh said she had been shown evidence that at least one of the carers’ understanding of English did not meet the standards required to work in Britain, which include proving that they can read, write, speak and understand the language. ‘Applicants for a visa must have passed a Secure English Language Test (Selt). It transpired during the inquest that one of the workers on the evening of August 8 2022 had never passed the Selt, so was not qualified or permitted to work in the UK,’ the report added.”

Coroner Marsh is calling the British government to account: "Addressing the Government in her Prevention of Future Deaths report, Mrs Marsh said: ‘I am concerned that those working with vulnerable people who are in a position of trust and responsibility must be able to demonstrate a sufficient proficiency in English to enable them to summon appropriate emergency medical attention when needed.’ Mrs Marsh told the Home Office and Mrs Whately that they have until Jan 22 to respond to her concerns.”

Good for her!

A humane society cares for its elderly and infirm.

Dumping our senior citizens into the care of people who can’t speak enough English to distinguish “alive” and “alert” is an outrage.

If we lack caregivers, let’s train our own people to do the job, at a good salary.

That’s better than importing foreigners who can’t speak enough English to make a proper emergency call.

You can find more of Allan Wall's work at his website.

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