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Free telephone interpreting service for pharmacies in Australia

Monday, December 08, 2008

By Ashok Kumar

I was once standing at a railway station and spotted an old Chinese lady whose knowledge of English didn't go beyond Yes and No. She had missed quite a few trains whereas any train from that station could have taken to her destination. I realized that language was her handicap and went to help her as I could converse in her language. I solved her problem and she thanked and blessed me for the help.
There would be so many migrants in Australia who may not be so fortunate as the old lady was. Someone could get stuck at a place like a pharmacy and at some crucial life saving moment.

Realising this, the Government decided to extend the free telephone interpreting services to pharmacies across Australia on an ongoing basis. This was announced by the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson, at the Liverpool Plaza Pharmacy in Liverpool, Sydney on Monday.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship, through the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) and with the assistance of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, recently conducted a pilot extension of free telephone interpreting services. Mr. Ferguson told The IST that the proposal was under consideration for more than three years and implemented as a pilot project.

For six months, 331 participating pharmacies were provided with unlimited access to telephone interpreting services, 24 hours a day. The pilot showed that pharmacies using the service found it to be a valuable tool when communicating with non-English speakers and would use it again. The need for this service is highlighted by the health care needs of recent refugee arrivals and elderly former migrants.

TIS National provided more than 500 000 telephone interpreting tasks in 2007-08 to assist with communication between English speaking and non-English speaking members of the Australian community. According to TIS officials present at the function, average time taken by the TIS to connect an interpreter to the pharmacy needing the service is about three minutes.

"The tendency to revert to a first language as experienced by some older Australians, who have acquired English as a second language, is one of the greatest issues facing our ageing population. This was demonstrated by the heavy usage of the TIS services by post-war aged European Communities throughout the duration of the pilot," Mr Ferguson said.

"Interpreting services are crucial for the proper distribution and usage of prescription medicines by non-English speaking Australians.

"Pharmacies who participated in the pilot used interpreting services more frequently and reported improved outcomes in terms of client understanding of medications."
Karima Addelatty, the Pharmacist at the Liverpool Pharmacy told newspersons present that the pharmacy has been immensely benefitted from TIS service. However, among the pharmacy employees include Rasha who speaks Arabic and Zivana Bakovic is, as the name suggest from East European descent. Karima herself is from Arabic background. The sign board too displays pharmacy's name in Arabic besides English.

The service has been welcomed by other stakeholders, such as refugee health nurses and settlement services providers, for its value in addressing some of the challenges in providing effective health care to non-English speakers. Registered pharmacies around Australia will be able to access the service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The occasion was also graced by Mr. Karim Jari of the Liverpool MRC, Centre Management staff and TIS officials
Further information about TIS National can be found at or by calling 1300 655 820

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