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Doctors of the World UK (DOTW) and over 20 local authorities, public health bodies and non-profit organisations including Just Fair have written to the UK Government to express concern at the lack of COVID-19 public health guidance in languages other than English.

This is preventing people in England who do not speak or read English well from accessing essential public health information and limiting their ability to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe, the group warns.

The Greater London Authority and Faculty of Public Health are among 29 signatories to the letter spearheaded by DOTW and sent to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick.

“To tackle the huge challenge of COVID-19 together, it is critical that everyone is supported to stay healthy and included in overall public health measures,” reads the letter.

“We urgently seek reassurance that the government will consider and include non-English speakers in its response to COVID-19 and commit to produce and maintain accessible COVID-19 guidance in languages that reflect England’s multilingual communities.”

In England and Wales over four million people speak a main language other than English with 864,000 speaking little to no English.

However, making COVID-19 guidance available in other languages has been largely left to local authorities and non-profit organisations like DOTW.  

DOTW, with support from the Mayor of London, has translated UK-wide guidance into over 60 languages. These translated resources have been accessed over 59,000 times, demonstrating the need for translated guidance in a range of languages.

“… as lockdown measures are eased and guidance changes regularly, it is not sustainable or practical for local authorities and civil society to meet this need,” reads the letter.

“The production of accessible and translated public health information for the public during a public health emergency is a central part of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s statutory duty to protect the nation’s health and wellbeing, and to address health inequalities in England.”

Read the full letter on the Doctors Of the World website here and coverage of the story by the BBC here.