26 January 2007: A national conference focusing on the provision of healthcare to ethnic minorities in Ireland takes place today in the Galway Bay Hotel, Galway. The inter-agency conference, entitled 'Participation of Ethnic Minorities in the Design, Planning and Delivery of Primary Care Services,' is being organised by the Primary Care Department, HSE West in partnership with the Department of General Practice, NUI Galway and the Galway Refugee Support Group.
Tríona Nic Giolla Choille and Kelly Jipé, Galway Refugee Support Group, says, "There is a need to address the social factors impacting on the health of asylum seekers and refugees. These include the system of Direct Provision, whereby people seeking asylum are accommodated for long periods in hostels, the prohibition on the right to work with its direct consequences on people's health and well being as well as the consequences in terms of poverty and social exclusion."
The conference will investigate the participation of ethnic minorities in the development of appropriate primary care services. It highlights that representatives from ethnic minority communities should have a 'voice' in the shaping of primary care because they are 'experts' of their own experiences. They can bring information and insights to those responsible for designing and delivery healthcare services and policies which can inform the organisation and delivery of services. This will help reduce health inequalities between ethnic minority groups and the indigenous Irish population because culturally appropriate health services can be developed.
The conference proceedings will contribute to the development of a new National Intercultural Health Strategy, which will be the subject of the keynote presentation by Alice O'Flynn, National Care Group Manager for Social Inclusion at the HSE.
Mr. Frank Murphy, Local Health Manager, Roscommon, HSE West when launching the conference congratulated the Steering Committee from the HSE, University and Galway Refugee Support Group for organising the conference. He said that it is a forum to address the issues in relation to Health Services for Ethnic Minorities.
Mr. Murphy stated that participation and involvement of ethnic minorities in the design, planning and delivery of services is the only way forward if services are to be culturally appropriate and sensitive to the needs of service users.
Other highlights of the conference include a workshop on new research into language barriers in primary care, from the Department of General Practice at NUI Galway, which found significant discrepancies in perception between doctors and patients. NUI Galway's Anne MacFarlane led the research which was carried out among Serb-Croat and Russian speaking refugee and asylum seeking patients and GPs in Galway city
According to Anne MacFarlane "The cornerstone of good medicine is good communication. However, our research shows that while GPs feel that communication problems with refugees and asylum seekers have settled down over time – for asylum seekers and refugees - speaking to and understanding their doctors is a major difficulty. According to the results, with no formal interpretation services available, the patients relied mainly on interpretation by friends and family including children. Patients also had to rely on gestures and miming or the use of dictionaries and phrase books. They find that these are inadequate solutions, often leaving them confused or ill-informed on leaving the surgery."
Dr. Anne MacFarlane continued, "Refugees and asylum seekers have complex health needs that may relate to the aftermath of torture, sexual violence and mental health issues. They should not have to rely on these informal methods because they do not feel that communication in their consultations is successful. It is hard to for them to trust advice and treatment from their GPs. These are some of the healthcare issues which this important conference will address and move towards resolving."
The conference is attended by policy makers, service planners, primary care professional organisations, service providers, academic and community researchers, community development workers and ethnic minority community representatives.