Language in hospitals debate shifts to Facebook

An official response to a petition calling for Luxembourgish to be the official language in hospitals has prompted outcry on FacebookPhoto: Pexels Pexels

An official response to a petition calling for Luxembourgish to be the official language in hospitals has prompted outcry on FacebookPhoto: Pexels Pexels

The document was sent to the petitioner after the petition did not receive the requisite 4,500 signatures to ensure a debate in parliament.

It was posted with “corrections” and criticisms marked in red on Facebook page Wee2050/Nee2015 where, at the time of writing, it had been shared 76 times. This Facebook page was founded by opponents of the 2015 referendum on granting foreign residents the right to vote in national elections and currently has over 8,000 likes.

The health minister's statement that “our estimates show that more than half of patients find it easier to communicate in a language other than Luxembourgish and that the obligation to communicate in Luxembourgish in hospitals would be to the detriment to patients” was described by the person posting as “ridiculous”, whose red comments covered the letter.

Lydia Mutsch, health minister, said in her response that the health sector, in particular hospitals, relied heavily on workers from abroad. She said that 52% of specialist doctors and 56.4% of hospital health workers were of foreign origin.

This statement is backed up by a 2016 Skills Panorama study on Luxembourg, which stated that because of retirements of medical professionals, Luxembourg would need between 100 and 150 doctors annually over the coming years.

Medical skills gap

However, there is not enough supply from people within Luxembourg. “Medical students in Luxembourg can only complete their first year at medical school at the University of Luxembourg and are then forced to go abroad, where many remain to work after graduation,” the report said.

Things could improve as starting in September 2017, Luxembourg rolls out a comprehensive training programme with an intake of 25 students, rising to 50 in September 2018. But the report pointed out that work needed to be done to inform students about the possibilities for training and work in Luxembourg.

The petition and Facebook criticisms follow a series of similar calls in which individuals have called for Luxembourgish to be made the main language in kindergartens and and the official language of the country. Two petitions on the latter theme garnered over the requisite number of signatures (they received almost 20,000 together) and the subject was debated in parliament at the beginning of January 2017.

At the time, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said he did not think that Luxembourgish was under threat and called for people to stop pitching languages against one another.

The 1984 language law states that the national language of Luxembourgers is Luxembourgish, while French, German and Luxembourgish can be used in administrative and judicial instances. Article 4 states that when an administrative request is made in Luxembourgish, French or German, the administration must, as far as is possible, use the same language in its response.