Health mandarins

Recently, an older Chinese man in Sheffield willingly gave his neighbour £50 for interpreting while his wife was taken to the local accident and emergency ward. He did not know what else to do.

However, he now knows there is an alternative. The Kinhon project, set up in 1999 and now directly funded by the primary care trust, is an innovative scheme that provides information, support and advocacy in order to increase the Chinese community’s access to mainstream health services. “Kinhon” means the well-being of a healthy person, and the road to kinhon is through equal access to services. “Equal access is not a bonus,” says project worker, Andrew Wong, “it is our basic human right”.

A lot of the work understandably revolves around language. Although written Chinese is the same, there are many dialects. Most users of the project speak Cantonese, with less than 20 per cent speaking either Hakka or Mandarin. Wong speaks all three.

However, the project goes beyond just providing a confidential and supportive translation and interpretation service. Wong explains: “Hospital interpreters just provide interpretation on the spot and that’s it. If we see a new client we make sure that the family is receiving adequate care. There was one man who we helped register with a GP. We found out that his wife and children were not registered either. For two years they had been in Sheffield and did not have a GP, because no one was helping them. We are more proactive – we explore what else they might need.” In the year ending December 2001, the project handled 308 cases of advocacy.

Relationship-building is central to this approach. “If there is a trust between the user and the interpreter they are more likely to tell you the things they need. We are able to get straight to the roots of the problem,” says Sarah Ng, manager of the Chinese community centre, where the Kinhon project is based.

“I was sitting in my office with an elderly lady who had a heart problem while I was arranging an out-patient appointment for her,” says Wong. “She told me that if it hadn’t been for the Kinhon project she would have been dead years ago.” He tells of another case of a young child who through the project had been fitted with a hearing aid: “His mother told us that her son had said, ‘Mum, I can hear the birds singing.’ It’s just so heart-warming.”

The project also has a part-time mental health support worker, recognising the need the community has for a specialised service in this area. Indeed, in 2001 Wong organised the seventh national conference on Chinese mental health in Sheffield. He also used the occasion to present the national Chinese carers’ awards – another scheme that he founded.

“The Chinese culture is very much keeping things in-house,” says Ng. “If you have an elderly relative or a disabled child you think it is your responsibility to look after them. However, what we are trying to say is if you want help or information it’s there. This is where the Chinese carers’ awards have been so important. It’s about recognising them for the role they were taking in their own family and the importance of being a carer, not just taking your expected role of responsibility,” she says.

On the day of my visit, Wong had organised a lively and informative meeting between Chinese service users and the local ward councillor Jean Cromar. Feedback on services was generally positive and Cromar also left with some questions to follow-up. When asked specifically about the Kinhon project the users gave it a resounding (and literal) big thumbs-up.

There is great affection for Wong. And for his part, no everyday task is too small. Ng says he “eats, sleeps and drinks the Kinhon project”. It certainly appears so. “I keep diary dates for when repeat medication or health check-ups for our users are required,” he says. And he usually attends alongside the user. “Basically I am the household butler for Chinese health care.”

– For more information contact Andrew Wong on (0114) 250 9594. E-mail:  Visit


Scheme: Kinhon project

Location: Sheffield, Yorkshire

Staffing: One full-time project worker,a part-time mental health support worker, and a part-time admin worker

Inspiration: To improve access to mainstream health services for the Chinese community

Cost: £53,500 a year

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