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The most important feature of an effective doctor is effective communication

In over 90% of cases, a patient's journey with the health service begins with the GP; and it’s vital that the patient is able to explain their symptoms in as much detail as possible to the doctor, and that the doctor and the patient can understand each other.
 

A common language between the patient and doctor is all-important and can make a real difference to the way a patient feels and also to the treatment provided. 
Dr Llinos Roberts is a GP in Cross Hands and Tumble, and can recall many situations where communicating in Welsh has proved crucial to her understanding of a patient's need. One example which stands out for her is when a young man came to see her, having been living with symptoms of depression for several months.
 
Dr Llinos explains: "When we talked, he told me that he had thoughts about self-harming and suicidal thoughts. Of course, this was a sensitive conversation, and it was very difficult for him to share his feelings with me. He had seen another doctor a few weeks earlier, and he admitted to me that he had not discussed these feelings with the doctor for one reason, and one reason only, and that was because the conversation had not taken place through the medium of Welsh. He had not felt comfortable and confident to discuss these issues in English. The fact that he had talked to me and had discussed his feelings with me enabled me as a doctor to offer him the medical care that he needed – without knowing those details, I would have not have been able to do so."
 
Another GP working through the medium of Welsh is Tomos Owens from Caernarfon. He started his training as a GP at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor in 2016, and saw how much difference language can make to a patient's care.
 
According to Dr Tomos, "Certainly the Welsh language benefited me in the children's ward and parents appreciated having someone who could speak Welsh with their child. With children, if you speak a language they don't understand, it's harder to get them to trust you, and let you inspect them."
 
He has also seen a difference when speaking with older people, who may be living with dementia and who find it difficult to explain their symptoms in a second language. He said: "I have a friend who’s a GP, and she speaks a little bit of Welsh but she's not fluent. A man with dementia came to see her, and he just couldn’t explain in English what was wrong. She then had to use the little Welsh she had, but unfortunately it wasn't enough. In the end, he had to arrange to come in and see another doctor who could speak Welsh, so that they could understand each other."
 
Dr Tomos felt it was very important that he came back to Wales to work, so that he could work through the medium of Welsh. He now speaks Welsh with around 90% of the patients who visit the surgery. He feels that speaking Welsh contributes greatly to the process of consulting with a patient.
 
Since 30 May this year, health boards have a duty to consider the opportunities that patients have to use the Welsh language when planning their primary care services.
 
To learn more about the rights to use Welsh within the health sector, go to www.welshlanguagecommissioner.wales/myrights

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