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LCQ21: Interpretation services of Hospital Authority

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Han-pan and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (October 15):


     Quite a number of people from the ethnic minorities have relayed to me that when seeking treatments at public hospitals or clinics, they are often not given appropriate treatments as they encounter communication difficulties due to language barriers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(1) whether the Hospital Authority (HA) has reviewed the interpretation services currently provided for people from the ethnic minorities;

(2) the number of complaints received by HA in the past three years lodged by people from the ethnic minorities about not being given appropriate treatments due to language barriers, and whether HA has followed up and dealt with such complaints; if HA has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether HA will allocate additional resources to employ more people from the ethnic minorities to work in public hospitals or clinics, so that they may also perform interpretation work as needed; if HA will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     To cater for the needs of ethnic minorities, interpretation services are provided in public hospitals and clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA) through a service contractor, part-time court interpreters, volunteers and consulate offices. The interpretation services provided by the service contractor, Hong Kong Translingual Services, cover 18 ethnic minority languages (namely Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Nepali, Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Bengali, Japanese, Tagalog, German, French, Sinhala, Spanish, Arabic, Malay and Portuguese).

     The HA has formulated guidelines for its staff on the procedures of arranging interpretation services. HA staff will arrange on-site or telephone interpretation services according to the needs of each case or upon requests of patients. For scheduled service (such as medical appointment at general outpatient and specialist clinics), patients may request the hospital/clinic concerned to arrange interpretation services in advance. For non-scheduled service (such as hospital admission during emergency), hospital staff will arrange immediate provision of telephone interpretation service or on-site interpretation service as soon as possible, or use response cue cards in ethnic minority languages to communicate with patients, in order to ensure that medical treatment could be provided in a timely manner.

     Besides interpretation services, the HA also provides response cue cards, disease information sheets and patient consent forms in 18 ethnic minority languages to enhance communication between hospital staff and ethnic minority patients in order to facilitate their registration and provision of services. These documents contain information about common diseases (e.g. headache, chest pain and fever), treatment procedures (e.g. blood transfusion and radiation therapy safety issues) and details of HA's services (e.g. fees and charges and the triage system of the Accident and Emergency Department).

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) The HA has regularly reviewed the interpretation services provided to ethnic minorities, and will expand the service coverage according to needs. The number of languages covered by the interpretation services has increased from four in 2006 to 18 now. To ensure the quality of interpretation services, the HA provides, through its service contractor, training in medical-related knowledge and communication skills for all interpreters, including training sessions conducted by university lecturers. Through such training, interpreters will master communication skills, and knowledge on hospital operation, medical terminology and infection control, so that they can provide services for ethnic minority patients in a prompt and accurate manner. So far, over 80 interpreters have received such training. In collaboration with representatives of the Centre for Translation of the Hong Kong Baptist University, the service contractor commissioned by the HA also conducts annual inspection in hospitals to monitor the service quality of interpreters.

(2) According to HA's complaint records and annual survey findings of patients using the services of Hong Kong TransLingual Services, users were generally very satisfied with the interpretation services provided in hospitals and clinics.

     In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 financial years, the HA received 20 and 12 complaints involving interpretation services provided in its public hospitals and clinics, representing less than 0.6% and 0.3% of the total number of cases respectively. The complaints mainly concern interpreters who were unable to arrive on time, and the situation has been improved in this regard. In the 2013-14 financial year, only 3 complaints were received, representing less than 0.05% out of a total of approximately 6,000 sessions of interpretation services provided in public hospitals and clinics under the HA. The complaints were mainly about the communication skills of interpreters and none of them was about the punctuality of interpreters. The HA and the service contractor have proactively taken follow-up actions in this regard.

(3) To meet the growing demand for interpretation services, the HA's expenditure on interpretation services increased from about $1.4 million in 2011-12 to about $3 million in 2013-14. It is expected that the expenditure will continue to increase in 2014-15.

     The HA will continue to strengthen the promotion of interpretation services to ethnic minorities. Multilingual posters have been printed and posted in public hospitals, and TV panels are used for promoting and helping ethnic minorities understand how to use the interpretation services.

     Apart from healthcare personnel, front-line staff such as staff at enquiry counters, nurses and clerks in hospital and clinics also come in contact with ethnic minorities. The HA orgainses various seminars on the cultural characteristics of ethnic minorities, anti-discrimination legislation and equal opportunities for its staff. Online training is also provided to strengthen their communication skills with ethnic minorities, enhance their knowledge on ethnic minority cultures and improve their skills in arranging interpretation services. The relevant information has also been incorporated in the induction course for new recruits. From April 2011 to March 2014, over 5,000 HA staff of various levels received relevant training in serving ethnic minorities.

     Looking ahead, the HA will continue to pay close attention to users' views and comments on the interpretation services in order to uphold service quality.

Ends/Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:45


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