And about 35 per cent of foreign staff who were recruited in the same period have participated in at least one language programme, he added.
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Here is the oral answer in today's Parliament on the language competency of foreign healthcare staff:
Question by Non-constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong:
To ask the Minister for Health (a) what safeguards are in place to ensure that foreign healthcare staff who can only speak English do not miscommunicate with our non-English speaking patients; (b) how the Ministry intends to encourage more foreign healthcare staff to attend courses to learn our official languages (other than English) and Chinese dialects; and (c) how many full-time interpreters for local languages and dialects are there in the public hospitals and polyclinics currently.
Answer by Parliamentary Secretary (Health) Faishal Ibrahim:
Effective communication between healthcare staff and patients is important to ensure patient safety. Therefore, public healthcare institutions have taken steps to ensure that foreign staff are able to communicate effectively with our patients. For instance, they conduct local assimilation programmes, including language courses (e.g. English, Malay, etc.) to familiarise foreign healthcare staff with our local clinical practice, as well as language and cultural context, to enable better communication between foreign staff and patients.
About 35 per cent of foreign staff recruited in the last 5 years had participated in at least 1 language programme. Some of the foreign staff are Malaysians or have been in Singapore for some time and are already familiar with our language and culture, and therefore may not need to attend such programmes. The Ministry also provides the public healthcare institutions with a training fund, to support foreign nurses in enrolling for language courses. More than 2,000 foreign nurses have benefitted from this scheme between 2009 and 2013.
Pictorial guides are available in our public healthcare institutions to aid staff in their communication with patients. In addition, our public healthcare institutions ensure that a good mix of local and foreign healthcare staff is rostered for each shift. They work as a team to care for our patients. In some institutions, foreign staff may also partner colleagues who speak the language of the patient if necessary. With these measures in place, the risk of miscommunication is reduced. Therefore, only a few public healthcare institutions have assessed that it is necessary to employ interpreters for local languages.
MOH and the public healthcare institutions will continue to encourage foreign healthcare staff to improve their communication skills, so that they can converse accurately and independently with our patients.