PATIENTS will soon be able to tell the NHS in Gwent whether they would prefer to receive letters in English or Welsh. 

At present the Aneurin Bevan Health Board often sends information out bilingually as it has struggled to keep a track on which language individual patients prefer to correspond with it in. 

But Paul Solloway, the board’s director of digital, said a new system expected to be in use from next year will be able to “store patient choice” of language. 

Iwan Jones, an independent member of the board with responsibility for finance, asked about the financial implications of operating bilingually, with the board told there are 121 Welsh language standards – those are the agreed requirements of what it must do through Welsh – it has to comply with. 

Mr Jones said: “There must be a big cost attached to this impacting other budgets or have we got specific funds for this?” 

He asked if the board has to send all its letters out in both English and Welsh. Sarah Simmonds, the director of workforce, said if it can identify the patient’s choice it can write in just the one language but said: “The tricky part is identifying that and keeping it consistent.” 

Mr Solloway then said it expects to be able to take advantage of the new system next year and that Microsoft has new technology that will automatically translate Word documents into Welsh. 

Ms Simmonds said that technology is already being used and added: “The accuracy is reported as very positive.” 

On cost she said the board has a funded Welsh language unit and has recently made changes to its staffing to appoint an internal translator, which has resulted in a saving in paying for translation services and increase in its capacity to offer translation. 

A Welsh language tutor will also be employed by the board in the coming months, which Ms Simmonds said would help staff with their Welsh language skills and competence which has been identified as a key issue in its survey of the Welsh language skills of staff. 

The board’s annual Welsh language report, which it must present to the Welsh Language Commissioner, has highlighted that it has increased the number of jobs advertised where Welsh language skills are desirable, essential or need to be learned, with the number increasing in all three indicators for the third consecutive year. However the report notes: “We continue to struggle to attract Welsh speakers to these roles.” 

The board has also taken part in events aimed at school children aged 14 to 16 in Welsh medium schools to highlight how the language can be a skill in health care, with staff also attending English medium schools on request. 

Mandatory training for all staff on More Than Just Words, the government’s five year plan for the use of Welsh in health care, has also seen 60 per cent compliance within the first three months. 

But the report has found that “evidence continues to come to light suggesting there is still a lack of understanding or awareness of the requirements to provide services through the medium of Welsh.” 

As a result more engagement events are planned. 

Participation in the board’s Welsh language strategic group remains low and only certain departments are involved creating a risk information isn’t being shared across the organisation. The membership of the group will now be reviewed. 

The board noted “improvements and progress made in the last year” and approved the report.