Migration and health

According to official statistics, nine per cent of the population in Switzerland - i.e. around 700,000 people - use a language other than the four national languages; of these people, 200,000 neither understand one of the national languages nor English. Given the central importance of communication in the health sector, language barriers can be a major obstacle to accessing medical services and can give rise to substantial healthcare-related problems, with regard to both diagnosis and treatment. These problems can adversely affect the quality of care and patient safety, with a risk of complications that may, in turn, lead to prolonged hospital stays or readmissions, generating additional costs. Clearly, these difficulties also have significant ethical and professional ethical implications - e.g. concerning patients' ability to give informed consent, the protection of privacy and equality of treatment, as well as the responsibility of health professionals to ensure the provision of appropriate care.

The Commission has therefore decided to address the question of language barriers in healthcare, focusing in particular on intercultural interpretation. Hearings were conducted on this topic and the Commission has published an Opinion.

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