Francophones slam lack of access to French medical services

“When you’re stressed out, you become unilingual. You need an interpreter.”



Access to medical services in French remains inadequate for Iqaluit’s thriving francophone community, says a report released by L’Association des Francophones du Nunavut.

None of Nunavut’s physicians speak French, the report says, and the ability of nurses and visiting specialists to communicate in French remains spotty.

Sixty per cent of francophones interviewed in Nunavut earlier this year were unhappy with their ability to receive medical services in French, found the authors of the report, titled “Health Services in French in a Changing North: An Inter-Community Challenge.”

There are 19 health care professionals across Nunavut who can speak French, according to a list compiled by the Francophone association.

That’s not good enough, the report says, considering there are between 800 to 1,000 francophones in the territory, largely concentrated in Iqaluit, based on the francophone association’s own numbers.

Statistics Canada puts the number considerably lower, at about 425, in a 2001 study.

While the territory’s francophones speak English to some degree, “for most people, it’s a problem,” said Daniel Hubert, one of the report’s authors.

That’s especially the case when you’re sick or injured, as one respondent interviewed for the report explained: “When you’re stressed out, you become unilingual. In those situations, you need an interpreter.”

The report is quick to acknowledge that Nunavut’s Inuit majority receive inadequate service in Inuktitut, and that addressing this should be the health department’s first priority.

But more could still be done to recruit French-speaking nurses and doctors.

For example, on Nov. 24, a recruitment fair for health professionals will be held at the University of Laval, in Quebec City. Representatives from the Northwest Territories and the Yukon are usually present.

But it’s not clear if anyone from Nunavut joined them. Representatives from the health department did not return phone calls.

However, the health department is presently advertising the position of a doctor who could serve Iqaluit’s francophone clients, which Hubert said is promising.

In the Northwest Territories, francophones have taken their territorial government to court in a Charter of Rights challenge, demanding health care services in French.

In contrast, Nunavut’s francophones acknowledge that health services ought to be provided in French, according to the territory’s existing Official Language Act, but in reality, this won’t happen when service in Inuktitut remains limited, and the health department remains underfunded and understaffed.

Nunavut’s francophones who live outside Iqaluit also acknowledged to the report’s authors that it would be unrealistic to expect service in French in their communities.

“We know we can’t have all services,” said Hubert.

The report includes the priorities of francophones for health services. They include chiropractic care in French – because a large number of taxi drivers in town are francophones, and they often develop back aches from bouncing along Iqaluit’s pothole-ridden roads for long shifts.

To justify further efforts to improve service in French, the report quotes from the Government of Nunavut’s Pinaqsuaqtavut document, which says the health of the territory’s residents will be ensured “by developing programs and services that are fair, understandable and easy to access.”

The report suggests that medical service in French has gotten worst since the creation of Nunavut.

“Respondents deplored the lack of doctors at the territory level and it was said that before the creation of Nunavut, medical interns would have been required to be bilingual. There has been a decrease in the quality of services,” the report states.

Meanwhile, it has been more than one year since the Baffin Regional Hospital lost its national accreditation – which is a concern to respondents interviewed for the report.

“The loss of accreditation by the Baffin Regional Hospital is a concern for many people. It gives the impression that Nunavut residents are considered second-class citizens by some. There has been a loss of trust in the health care system,” the report goes on to say.

The report also calls on the government to provide more promotional campaigns in French to encourage residents to follow healthy lifestyles.

The francophone association has conducted its own health compaigns, encouraging residents to stop smoking and, more recently, to receive a flu vaccine.

Hubert said he hopes the report’s findings will encourage the government to act.
“We have tools. Now we need to connect with the department,” Hubert said.

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