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Report questions immigrant treatment

A lack of interpreting endangers immigrant patients.

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A report from the Immigrant Clinic at Odense University Hospital lists an array of serious problems that have occurred as a result of immigrant patients not getting the interpreting help they need in order to fully understand their treatment process.

The report not only addresses the problem of bad interpreting, but also the fact that immigrant patients do not always get the interpreting help they are entitled to.

“We often see that interpreters have not been present during consultations, examinations and treatment. Immigrants become insecure and don’t know what to do,” Immigrant Clinic Chief Physician Morten Sodemann tells Avisen.dk.

The report says that in some cases, general practitioners have told interpreters to leave the room during consultations because the doctor has felt that the patient’s Danish was good enough – despite protests from the patient. Some interpreters have reported that staff talks to the patient in Danish without using the interpreter.

The Vollsmose Health Centre in Odense has consultations with many immigrants daily and says it often hears about the problem.

“We often ask immigrants if they had an interpreter in visits to the doctor, and that is certainly not always the case,” says Sissi Buch.

The report speaks of one patient who travelled to the Middle East and had parts of her gall bladder and liver removed because she had understood from the Danish doctors that she had cancer – which she did not. No interpreter had been present.

In another case a patient suffered acute liver failure because his doctor wanted to change the medicine he was prescribed and the man thought he had to take both medicines at the same time.

Another mishap was a mother of five who had a coil inserted during a gynaecological examination but thought that the doctor had understood that she did not want a coil.

The Danish Medical Association says it does not feel that there is a general problem in getting an interpreter under current rules.

“It is worrying and a problem if immigrants do not get an interpreter,” says Danish Medical Association Deputy Chairman Yves Sales. He adds that he is worried at the consequences of a new law that comes into force in 2011 which will mean that immigrants who have lived in Denmark for more than seven years will have to pay for their interpreter themselves.

Edited by Julian Isherwood

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