Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals: Improving Confidence in Conversational English with the Creative English Alliance

Creative English Alliance

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust in East London has two main sites, Queen’s Hospital in Romford and King George Hospital in Ilford, serving a large geographical area. Across both sites the Trust has 6,500 staff and volunteers and cares for a diverse population of around 750,000, making it one of the largest in the country.

The Trust is one of five in the country to take part in the Virginia Mason Institute Development Programme and one of eight new national vanguard sites for urgent care. The vision of the Trust is to provide outstanding healthcare to its community, delivered with PRIDE values: Passion, Responsibility, Innovation, Drive and Empowerment.

Creative English uses a drama-based method to teach English and expand language skills. Using scenarios inspired by hospital situations, Creative English enables learners to understand and practise the language they need in their work while having fun!

The challenge

As the Trust serves such a large population, there is a wide ethnic mix of patients from the elderly population of the East End of London to those who have newly arrived from Eastern Europe with potentially few or no English language skills. Demographics of Trust staff are also changing as a number of new international nurses join the team as a result of overseas recruitment drives. The increasing diversity of the workforce increases the potential for difficulties in conversational language between patients and staff and between staff themselves. One of the largest areas of concern in the Trust’s PALS interactions is communication between staff and patients, including (but not limited to) the use of English. A need was identified for staff to understand colloquial, conversational English, particularly sayings from the local area. Staff would not necessarily be expected to use all this language themselves, but they needed to understand informal expressions and their social connotations, including which ones were rude.

The process

The five-week course had a particular focus on the colloquial, conversational English that is heard in hospital.  It covered a variety of terms that patients might use to talk about parts of the body or communicate their feelings, such as common things people might say when anxious.  A number of the staff knew ‘text book’ English, but language is often different in real life.  These sessions gave staff the opportunity to hear the language and practice responding, in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.  The more that people engage with this kind of practice, the more confident they are in responding to language in real situations.

Each participant was given a small notebook to keep with them and use both during the sessions and externally, making it easy to note down English that they didn’t understand and bring it to the lesson to discuss in a safe environment.

Each session started with a game or icebreaker, which often covered some of the phrases or topics used in the previous session.  This might include making words out of playdough, or making ‘people’ out of paper and labelling the parts of their bodies.  The session would then move on to role-play activities, in which staff acted out how to engage with patients and react to the phrases that they might use. There would also be some pair work and games to introduce new colloquial language.

The sessions were interactive, and some staff found it difficult to engage in a new learning style at first.  However, through the design of the overall course, the interactive elements as well as the language were built up gradually to ensure that staff were not uncomfortable at any stage.

Outcomes and successes

100% of those who attended felt that their confidence in conversational English had improved after the course, with a number of them claiming that they had already put into practice things that they had learnt.

A number of participants held ‘back office’ roles and described the benefit of understanding commonly used phrases in the office environment that they had previously not understood. Confidence was the key factor: embarrassment at their lack of understanding of the language had previously prevented all participants from asking for clarification on tasks.

The pilot is now being developed further and, based on feedback, will focus on identified groups, with the potential to be embedded into International Educated Nurse (IEN) Induction/follow up sessions.

Further information

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust
Jennifer Garvey, Training and Development Facilitator
01708 435000

Creative English
Felicity Smith, National Co-ordinator
0845 094 6350

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