President of the team of volunteers at the Clínico. SUR
The team of volunteer interpreters who assist foreign patients at Malaga’s Hospital Clínico Universitario, typically known simply as ‘the Clínico’, has been asked by the management at another major hospital in the provincial capital, ‘the Carlos Haya’, to help introduce a similar service there, SUR in English has learnt.
The news follows the recent announcement that, despite strong opposition from medical unions and a 300 signature petition, Carlos Haya has dispensed with its own seven-strong team of translators, who received an ‘honorary payment’ of 600 euros a month for their services.
This newspaper understands that the dismantling of the ‘stand-alone’ interpreting service at the Carlos Haya is largely due to financial cutbacks, although this has not been officially confirmed.
“We have been approached to help launch a volunteer-run service at the Carlos Haya after the contract with those who interpreted there previously came to an end,” explains Diana Mathieson the president of the translation team at the ‘Clínico’.
“All the four main hospitals in Malaga are now part of one group, so I would imagine that this [volunteer-only interpreting programme] could eventually be implemented across all the hospitals, and possibly the health centres too, in the city.”
“As such, more volunteer translators will be needed.”
The well-established ‘Clínico model’, which it appears will be used as a template and replicated in other medical facilities, consists of a team of volunteers who work, generally, one morning per week.
“We have a number of different nationalities and amongst us can speak English, Spanish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Chinese and Greek,” says British-born Diana, who has been volunteering at the hospital for four years. “But the ability to speak both Spanish and English is ‘must’.”
“In recent years, we’ve found that there has been an increasing number of foreign patients from the Ukraine, Romania, China, Bulgaria and Russia, but these people tend to be younger and have a better level of the Spanish language, so they can communicate more readily with the doctors and nurses.
“The British and Scandinavian patients are usually retirees who have had no need to speak much Spanish until they became ill and needed the hospital, so much of our time is focused around these people.
“Although, I must say, that most of the younger doctors nowadays speak excellent English.”
The ‘Clínico’ volunteer interpreters work across a wide-range of the hospital’s departments and, says Diana Mathieson, the role is a rewarding one.
“We work wherever we’re needed in the hospital, which, for example, could be in the accident and emergency department, on the wards, or with out-patients who have come for an appointment.
“Sometimes we have to become very involved in a case, other times we’re required to take a more ‘hand-holding’ position with patients. However when we assist a patient it’s very rewarding indeed and people seem very appreciative.”
But, Diana points out, this volunteer work would not suit everyone.
“You have to fit a particular profile to do this kind of social translating, as it’s not just about having the language skills. Some of the work we do can be heartbreaking and you need to be prepared for that,” she affirms.
Medical unions are angry with the decision to scrap the original service
Following the announcement last week that the translating service at the Carlos Haya has ceased, a medical union representative at the hospital, Julio Martínez, issued a statement, saying: “The team of translators had developed an extremely important role, helping out at least 50 people a day, and often in A&E and at odd hours.
“It appears that the management in Seville [who made the decision to scrap the service] is unaware of the idiosyncratic characteristics of our city.”
Carlos Haya Hosptial sources tell_SUR that the centre’s management studied the possibility of maintaining two of the seven-strong translating team, but that this too proved not to be viable.