Surgeon halts operation over foreign nurses' poor English

Nurses General Nursing


Zounds! Figured it would come to this ... notice the idiot suits are threatening the Doctor ... suits not at all medically-oriented with concern for standards and safety -- or common sense :o

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7/22/2002, by Richard Eden

Surgeon halts operation over foreign nurses' poor English

A surgeon at a leading hospital has said he had to stop halfway through an operation because foreign nurses could not follow his instructions. As a result, he said he has been threatened with disciplinary action for racism.

David Nunn, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, in London, told The Telegraph that he was unable to complete the operation last week without certain instruments.

When he asked the nurses, all of whom were foreign, to find them, "I was met with a selection of bemused reactions," he said. "They were produced only when the scrub nurse de-scrubbed and went to find them herself."

Mr Dunn, 48, said his superiors had accused him of racism and threatened him with being disciplined. "But we should not allow political correctness to prevent these problems from being aired."

Half of the nurses newly registered in the year to March - 15,000 - came from overseas. Ten years ago foreign nurses accounted for only a tenth.

Mr Dunn said: "The world has been scoured for nurses to shore up the health service and to achieve arbitrary targets set by the Government.

"All are without doubt well-trained and dedicated professionals, but if medical staff cannot communicate effectively then patients' care may be put at risk."

A spokesman for Guy's and St Thomas's said the matter was being investigated. He expressed surprise that "the media has been involved before it is concluded".

He said that nurses from abroad went through an "adaptation programme" and had to pass a clinical test involving "an assessment of their written and verbal communication skills".

All hospitals offer induction courses for nurses from abroad, but these concentrate on clinical and professional competence, not on English.

A Department of Health spokesman said there were no mandatory tests for nurses' ability in English.


657 Posts

like nobody saw that coming

how awful for the new nurses.

Nurse Ratched, RN

2,149 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics/Oncology/Psych/College Health.

I spent much time trying to orient a new nurse who happened to be from another country. Neither one of us couldn't understand what the other was saying. Makes it very challenging. In a fast-paced setting it can be very dangerous.

It culminated one evening when she came into report to inform several of us of something. Took her saying it 4 times before we realized she was telling us the other nurse had just rolled the crash cart down the hall to a patient room (yikes!)

I don't know what the answer is. It was also extremely difficult for our patients (many of whom were demented or otherwise cognitively impaired) to understand her.

She was not new to this country - had been here for nearly 20 years.


790 Posts

I give this guy credit for putting the patient's safety first! He also defended these nurses as being professionals. I don't know about London and I might very well rile a lot of feathers with my next comment, but when people go to another country they need to speak the language of that country. This idea here in America (In NJ anyway) that we need to provide language teachers for every laguage every student speaks is ridiculous. In Bergen county alone there are several hundred languages spoken. Hello, our language is English. If I moved to France they wouldn't speak English to accomodate me. If I moved to a remote area of Africa, I'd be expected to communicate in the laguage of that area.

What is with this Doc being called Mr. Dunn. IS that common in England???


223 Posts

Been in a simular situation Nurse Ratched.

Its so frightening


223 Posts


Yes in the UK they have to attend english classes but do not always comply.

Mr Dunn ? Oh Dear My Darling, it is a fairly common name


564 Posts

Saw this on the BBC this morning. Thank goodness the physician had the sense to stop the proceedings before getting in over his head. It might have been rough on the new nurses, but it certainly was only to the patient's benefit!

I believe that unless you can make yourself clearly heard and understood (that is sometimes difficult with native-tongue speakers of ENGLISH with some doctors), you should never put yourself in a position that could cause error. A simple misunderstanding could result in something a lot bigger. I shudder to think what it would be like to be lying there, trusting the Dr. and nurses, and they aren't even on the same page! AAAARrrggghhh!

live4today, RN

5,099 Posts

Specializes in Community Health Nurse.

I, too, think Dr. Dunn did the right thing FOR HIS SURGICAL PATIENTS by halting the operational procedure. OR is no place for errors to occur, especially when the language barrier is the biggest problem between the surgeon and the attending staff.

I applaud a doctor who does that. When I lived in Germany, and the military hospitals were downsizing, many nurses were "pinkslipped" and had to look for jobs on the economy. IF you spoke German, the German hospitals would have loved to have you on board, but if you did NOT speak German, you couldn't possibly work there without MUCH frustration and making tons of medical errors to boot. So....I'm all in agreeance that any nurse regardless of his/her cultural heritage, should be REQUIRED to pass an English competency exam PRIOR to starting work in a hospital IF they do NOT already speak fluent English....AND...understand fluent English. Some can speak English, but cannot UNDERSTAND all what they hear spoken to them. :eek: :)


223 Posts

An aquaintance of mine was involved in the recruitment of some overseas nurses. She went to the country with a party of senior nurses to interview applicants. At the time they had to sit an english test that comprised of reading and comprehension. However there is a big difference in the written word than colloquial[?spelling] or spoken word

In my particular part of Wales we have many words that have the same meaning so misinterpretation is common.

:confused: But what I find most annoying is when people do not ask "what do you mean by that?"


177 Posts

I work with a Nigerian nurse who also lived in England before coming to the States. She has a language barrier with some of the staff when she asks to borrow a torch or tries to direct a visitor to the lift. Things like that. Now just imagine someone who has little or no command of English in any form trying to live and work in an English speaking country. I applaud Mr. Dr. Dunn for thinking of safety and stopping the surgery.


70 Posts

I just can't believe what is going on. And then if you speak up for patient's sake, politcal correctness sets in. Where in the world does the hospital's responsibility lie? Imagine putting circulating nurses in the OR that don't know their job, the language or the instruments. Have they been oriented, is there not a card for looking up MD's instrument preference or something like that. Wasn't there a charge nurse or a manager available. I don't care----nurses who don't speak ENGLISH and I mean well don't have any business working until they do. I heard that down in Texas?? they are mandating that nurses take 2 years of Spanish to accomodate the non-English speaking patients. While I know that the world is getting smaller and we need to be able to speak some foreign languages, the nursing field is no place to have non-english competent staff. ARRRRRGGGGG. It is just a sin.:imbar


Guest JeannieM

0 Posts

When I was teaching nursing at a major University, one of my students was Asian with English as a second language. During my lectures and clinicals, she would always smile and nod, and her speech to me was hesitant, but generally correct. Finally she came to me in tears and admitted that much of the time she didn't know what I was talking about! I use a lot of anecdotes and humor when teaching, and there was a cultural as well as a language barrier. I spent a lot of extra time with her as well as sending her for tutoring. By some miracle we squeezed her through the semester.

I also saw some students who had special allowances to use medical English/other language dictionaries during tests! :eek: These nurses have my utmost admiration, but I hope they brought their dictionaries to a code and learned to flip through them quickly. I consider myself an excellent nurse, but I would be far from qualified to practice in Mexico, France or China!!!:imbar

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