The news that a Welsh Language Minister sought advice from officials on how to 'sell' a new draft of health regulations that would deprive vulnerable people of rights to healthcare in Welsh has led to calls to reconsider the Government's plans for new language legislation.
Among papers released to Cymdeithas yr Iaith following a freedom of information request about discussions on the Health Standards – regulations to create Welsh language rights when dealing with the health service – is a document written by the Minister, Eluned Morgan AM. In the paper, she seeks the advice of civil servants on how to justify removing a limited right to receive clinical consultations in Welsh from the regulations, and asks:
"So I want to be clear: if a little old 90 year old lady from Gwynedd who speaks poor English goes to hospital and is about to have a complicated operation, she cannot "legally" ask for someone to explain to her in Welsh what is happening, and what we are offering is that the Health Board makes plans so that they can set out to what extent they will be able to carry out clinical consultations in Welsh 5 years from now, which presumably could say that they still won't be able to. (I think this is quite a tough sell! Any ideas?)"
The regulations were eventually passed by Assembly Members in March this year, without a limited right to receive face-to-face health care services in Welsh included that had been included in the draft regulations, and despite a cross-party committee report demanding it be included.
Pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith is running a campaign to halt Government plans outlined in a white paper last year it describes as an attempt to weaken current Welsh language rights. Heledd Gwyndaf, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith commented:
"These papers will shock many people who are under the impression that the Welsh Government supports the Welsh language. We are less surprised, because we know that the civil service's agenda is to weaken people's language rights. What we see is a weak Minister who, instead of challenging the regressive direction of civil servants and showing leadership on the language, asks them to help her justify steps that will deprive the most vulnerable of their language rights. This is what has happened with language rights in the health service, and that's their intention with the proposed Welsh Language Bill. The Minister is acting as the voice of the establishment, which wants to weaken the language rights of ordinary people, instead of speaking up for the people who want to see their rights protected and increased. That's what's behind these shocking comments about an older person's rights to healthcare in Welsh."
"This will inevitably raise questions about how appropriate it is for Eluned Morgan and her team of officials to be responsible for this area of policy at all. These papers show that the Minister and her civil servants knew what they were doing – they were depriving vulnerable people of their language rights. Now that these papers have come to light, the Government must now revisit the Health Standards and their plans to weaken Welsh language legislation. Instead of meekly following the lead of her civil servants, the Minister should listen to those who support the interests of the Welsh language, not powerful institutions and companies."