DEMAND for interpreter services at Northern Health for patients who don't speak English has more than doubled over three years as Melbourne's north grows as a cultural melting pot.
The number of requests at the healthcare provider's centres in Broadmeadows, Craigieburn, Epping, Bundoora and Preston is up from about 17,000 a year in 2008 to more than 39,000 in the 12 months to June this year.
Northern Health transcultural and language services co-ordinator Emiliano Zucchi said the program catered for the growing number of Arabic-speaking residents and the settled migrant communities.
"There has been a population increase in our catchment, and the effect that language services have in health services is huge.
"If there's a communication gap between patient and clinician, it increases risks."
Northern Health statistics show that since the interpreter program began in 2007, the average stay of patients who don't speak English has declined 25per cent .
Mr Zucchi said the language services clearly showed an improvement in patient-health outcomes and brought considerable cost savings.
Established communities, such as those of Italian and Greek background, understood the services on offer.
However, Northern Health needed to do some work so that newer and refugee communities had a better grasp of what was available.
Mr Zucchi said about 20per cent of Melbourne's refugees had settled in the area.
The main languages requested at Northern Health included Arabic, Turkish, Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Vietnamese and Assyrian.
Mr Zucchi said Northern Health's transcultural and language program was a sector leader, yet it was still in its infancy.
"In three years, we've gone from four staffers to 13, and we keep growing.
"As the European population decreases, we have to concentrate on emerging communities - for instance, on African languages."
Northern Health chief executive Greg Pullen said the program included more than 80 training sessions a year on cultural awareness for all staff, covering issues such as Muslim dietary requirements.
"Having staff aware of cultural sensitivities reduces the risk that can arise when shared respect, meaning and knowledge are not present."