Resource support

Priority line to support general practitioners and their CALD patients

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The service connects people who speak a language other than English with interpreters and gives special access to the National Coronavirus Helpline.

Using interpretation services through the Coronavirus Hotline will help GPs take care of the CALD community.


The COVID-19 pandemic has increased barriers to healthcare, especially for patients from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds (CALDs) who may have poor English proficiency.

In an effort to further support general practitioners providing care to CALD patients, the Department of Health (DoH) has granted priority access to the National Coronavirus Helpline through Translation and interpretation services (TIS). TIS offers free access to interpreters and now enjoys priority access to the 24-hour hotline, run by nurses.

The patient calls, indicates his language, then is put in touch with an interpreter who has priority access to the hotline. According to the DoH, the average wait time for people using this service is less than a minute.

GP and RACGP representative on DoH CALD COVID-19 advisory group said Dr Kate Walker gp news that working with accredited interpreters is “an essential part” of GP care for patients with poor English proficiency.

‘It is [especially] critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to explain concerns about vaccinations… testing, isolation and quarantine and for the care of patients positive for COVID, ”she said.

“It is especially important to assess and explain what to do if patients develop severe symptoms that indicate patients with COVID-19 are deteriorating and where to go for help.”

Dr Walker said pre-existing and pandemic-related barriers to accessing health care have resulted in lower vaccination rates in some groups, and possibly increased the incidence of COVID-19 infections, although that she noted that the data is still pending.

“Barriers to accessing care for patients with poor English proficiency who are not well with COVID-19 potentially make them more at risk of death,” said Dr Walker.

“Making the coronavirus helpline a priority through TIS for patients who need interpreters will help GPs take care of the CALD community during this busy time.

“I encourage general practitioners to share this resource with their CALD patients”.

The service is accessible to TIS interpreters via a priority telephone number which is not accessible to the public. The DoH indicates that the average duration of calls is between two and three times that of the general line (10-16 minutes), and between September 23 and 29, 2021, 171 people accessed the service.

Call takers provide COVID-19 information and help callers make their immunization appointments by providing step-by-step assistance, including general questions about restrictions or travel advice.

For callers who require clinical information, they are routed to priority clinical assistance via TIS interpreters.

“Health related issues are handled by a nurse who can discuss common side effects of vaccines and triage if they require further evaluation,” said Dr. Walker.

“They can advise patients when and where to get tested for COVID-19 and how to arrange for home testing if necessary.

“If sick patients with COVID need after-hours counseling they can call the hotline, if they deteriorate they will be advised to call an ambulance.”

Translated audio, video and written information can also be sent to patients after the SMS call in their language should they wish to receive further information, including translated documents by jurisdiction.

In addition to the priority axes put in place to support the CALD populations, as well as workers in care facilities for the elderly, the DoH is exploring the possibilities of offering the service to other priority groups.

The DoH also has a COVID-19 Resource Page with audio, video, illustrated and written information in different languages ​​for CALD populations.

Meanwhile, the RACGP has launched its own campaign to encourage people to see their GPs, as well as resources for GPs using telehealth with their CALD patients, following advice to use interpreters when necessary.

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