Language barriers in health and social care consultations in the community: a comparative study of responses in Ireland and England

Health Policy. 2009 Oct;92(2-3):203-10. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2009.03.014. Epub 2009 Apr 28.


Objective: This paper focuses on the implications of migration for host health and social care systems in terms of linguistic diversity, language barriers and language supports. The objective is to compare Ireland, as a context responding to the new challenge of language barriers in healthcare, and England, as a context in which the management of language barriers is being re-assessed.

Methods: Empirical data from two action research studies in Ireland and England are compared. The combined data set is 146 data collection episodes with service users with limited English and their health and social care providers.

Results: Key findings are that the same range of formal and informal responses to language barriers occurs in practice in both contexts but proportions of knowledge and use of these responses differ. English service providers have more awareness about the use of formal responses than Irish service providers but uptake of formal responses remains low in both contexts. Data from service users confirms these findings.

Conclusions: There is a need for more attention to the implementation of policies for language barriers in both Ireland and England, further research about the normalization processes associated with these consultations and knowledge transfer networks to facilitate on-going dialogue between all key stakeholders with an emphasis on supporting service users' involvement and participation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication Barriers*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • England
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Language*
  • Policy Making
  • Surveys and Questionnaires