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Welsh language regulations in healthcare: realism needed

Blog Author Lauren Harrhy

Blog Date 15/03/2018



I'm born and bred Welsh and very proud of my roots – I'm from a working-class family, 'from the valleys' in South Wales, and I've worked my way up to become the proud owner of a mixed dental practice in Pontypool.

At the end of February, the Welsh Government outlined its regulations which specify Welsh language standards for bodies including health boards and NHS trusts. 

The responsibility appears to be on health boards to plan their work to improve their offer, including more clinical services in the Welsh language. But this also means more burden will fall on dentists to comply with the new regulations, including offering telephone and written communications in Welsh, which may be the final nail for some practitioners, who are already stressed out and looking for the exit. 

This feels like yet another piece of onerous legislation, that comes hot on the heels of the private dentistry regulations and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), adding to the mountain of bureaucracy and hoops dentists are having to grapple with. We raised these issues with the Welsh Chief Dental Officer, and we are putting the view of the professional across, calling for realism and pragmatism. 

Full disclosure here: I don't speak Welsh.

In my nine years of practice, I've only actually encountered one fully Welsh speaking patient (in Brecon), but she did also speak English, so language was not a barrier to me treating her.

In fact, the census shows all Welsh speakers can speak English, although preferences vary. 

In North and West Wales, there are many more Welsh speaking patients and naturally Welsh speaking dentists do gravitate towards those areas. However, many patients who speak Welsh, are quite content to speak English for consultations with dentists who don't have the language. This was seen by Welsh government as a safer option than having Welsh translation provided at such appointments, which would also carry a cost. 

The most recent Government stats show that around 13 per cent of people aged three and over speak Welsh daily. If this figure looks set to rise, then Government needs to consider long-term planning and investment to ensure that citizens' needs are met. 
We agree that, in an ideal world, patients should be able to speak the language of their choice with their practitioners and we know that many dental practices do try to offer Welsh language provision if it is requested. 

We stand with our GP colleagues, by saying that we welcome promoting the Welsh language but in healthcare settings, we need to be realistic about workforce and workload challenges.

But there are so many challenges currently facing primary care – dentistry is facing a workforce shortage in Wales, and finding dentists who can speak Welsh in preference will not help this crisis at all. 

With the pressures of hitting UDA targets, many dentists realistically, just won't have the time to prioritise learning another language, which is included in the standards. 

But attracting more Welsh speaking students into the dental profession would be a really positive step to ensuring the Welsh language is encouraged, and available to those who request it. 

With the NHS under such great pressures from austerity measures and an increasing regulatory burden, the issue of priorities needs to be addressed.


We'd love to see Welsh Government engaging with the dental profession on how we are going to stem the rising recruitment and retention crisis among dentists in Wales - rather than putting off even more staff from staying in the dental profession and adding another layer of onerous 'box ticking' for those trying to run a dental practice.

Lauren HarrhyLauren Harrhy, Vice-Chair

Welsh General Dental Practice Committee

BDA Wales

BDA Wales campaigns for the interests of all dentists working in Wales. With our elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts: join us.