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The value of the Welsh language through the eyes of the cancer ward workers

Manon Williams is the cancer division matron at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board; and every day sees how communicating in Welsh makes a big difference to the physical and mental wellbeing of patients and their families.
Speaking about her work leading the nurse teams on the cancer wards at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, she said: "It is very important that we are there to talk to patients and their families in Welsh. With cancer, the information that a patient receives can be very complex. So, say that the doctor or consultant doesn't speak Welsh, we can then take the time to talk to people in their own language and make sure that they have understood all the information about the treatment. This is also very important if a patient and family receive bad news – they need to be able to talk about it in Welsh."
North Wales hospitals treat adults with cancer, and those adults may be people who are uncomfortable speaking English or parents of young children who are monolingual Welsh speakers or who are more comfortable speaking Welsh.
anon said: "Seeing their mam or dad sick is of course a daunting experience for a child. A large part of our work, as well as caring for the patient, is to make the atmosphere as natural and comfortable as possible for children; and asking them about their day at school, their friends or favourite toys is a part of that. We are also there when bad news is conveyed to children, and support the parents as they prepare their children to grieve.
A Welsh language service is also a clinical need, and Manon has seen how a Welsh-language service can make the difference between life and death.
"When patients leave the ward after treatment, we give them a bilingual information sheet and a phone number to contact us if they don't feel well. When they phone, we need to know as much detail as possible about how they feel in order to be able to carry out an assessment on the spot. We’ve seen that people can explain their symptoms better in Welsh if that is their first language, and accurate descriptions are vital if we are to decide on a course of action. With something like sepsis, for example, we have to move fast and call them in urgently; so communicating clearly can make a huge difference."
She also explained that there are some clinical situations where the illness can affect the linguistic ability of patients.
"You hear more about this, perhaps, with stroke, but it can also happen with some types of brain tumour, where a patient loses the ability to communicate in their second language. Sometimes, the different medications we give them can effect them mentally and mean that they are only able to express themselves in Welsh."
Another professional who works on a cancer ward is Sioned Mair Jones, a dietitian at Singleton Hospital in Swansea. She said: "The Welsh language is very important for some patients. I see people feeling terribly unwell; they're away from home for a long time receiving radiotherapy, away from their families and feel more at home when speaking Welsh.
"Some people with learning difficulties come to the ward. They speak Welsh as a first language, and struggle to speak English. I have had to write down the details for them in Welsh. I wouldn't be able to do my job without the Welsh language.
"When I speak Welsh with some patients I see that they understand what I am saying better. They trust me. When a patient first comes to hospital, they are scared. They come into hospital, and the place is so different from what they are used to."
Since 30 May this year, in hospitals across Wales, health boards have a duty to make a record of what language inpatients want to speak and to make sure that all ward staff are aware of the language choice.
To learn more about the rights to use Welsh within the health sector, go to

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