Queensland health: Hospital staff told to speak English only at work

STAFF at a Queensland hospital have been warned they will be referred to human resources if they speak a foreign language while at work.

The Courier-Mail has seen an email from a ''higher-up'' at the remote country hospital, admonishing staff for speaking foreign languages on the job, and Queensland Health has confirmed an investigation is underway.

"I have received a few complaints lately about staff speaking in their own language in front of others," the email says.

"This makes people feel paranoid and isolated and it is to stop immediately.

"If I get any other complaints the matter will be referred to HR."

But North West Hospital and Health Service Acting Chief Executive Barbara Davis said there was no such directive from senior management at the hospital, telling staff to speak only English while on duty and Queensland Health is now investigating.

"We are looking into this matter and if anyone within the hospital has issued such a communication without the authorisation of senior management, they will be counselled," Ms Davis said.

"Communicating clearly with our patients and visitors is always an absolute priority.

"But there is no requirement for staff to speak only English among themselves at any of our health facilities."

Ms Davis said no formal complaints had been made to Queensland Health by staff, patients or visitors at the hospital regarding languages other than English being spoken in the facility.

The Courier-Mail understands the staff members who received the email on January 4 were upset by the direction.

But their outrage was not shared by the Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union (QNMU) which warned members against speaking languages other than English while on the job.

"Using a language unknown to a patient, including the use of technical medical lingo, can make those in an already extremely vulnerable situation feel unnecessarily scared or fearful," QNMU organiser Kaylene Turnbull said.

"Nurses, doctors and all medical staff need to be mindful of patients' emotional wellbeing during what can be an emotional and stressful time."

An Australian Bureau of Statistics analysis of 2011 census data revealed the number of overseas-born doctors and nurses in Australia was steadily increasing.

In 2011, 56 per cent of the country's GPs, 47 per cent of specialists and one third of the nursing population were born overseas.

Traditionally, the majority of overseas-born doctors coming to Australia were from the United Kingdom but that number has slowly decreased, with the number of GPs, nurses and specialists coming from India steadily increasing.

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