Professional interpreting services in health and social care

When the NHS and councils deliver health and social care to their communities, they often need to communicate important and sensitive information to non-English speakers.

In these instances, it is very important that only suitably qualified, experienced, and security vetted interpreters are used. Just because someone speaks the same language as another person, does not mean they are either qualified or trained to effectively interpret in such critical situations.

Equal access for all

It is imperative that no matter what language a person speaks, that every member of the public within the UK has equal access to public services. This may mean healthcare, social care, education, or just having their wheelie bin emptied, because it is their right.

In the 2011 census, 4 million people (8%) within the UK population reported speaking a different main language other than English or Welsh.

Polish was the most spoken language with 546,000 speakers, followed by Punjabi and Urdu.

Working with qualified interpreters

In the past, it was commonplace for family members and friends to interpret for a non-English speaker, and in some cases, members of staff employed by the organisation providing the service. However, today, both these methods of communicating with non-English speakers are rare, and the clear majority of public sector organisations will only use suitably, qualified, experienced and security vetted interpreters from a Language Service Provider (LSP) with whom they have entered into a contract.

Allowing family members, friends or members of staff to undertake interpreting assignments can be tempting –  they are available, easy to get hold of, free of charge and they may also be a reassurance to the non-English speaker, however there are significant risks involved.

What are the risks?

Using a family member or friend may prevent the non-English speaker from being honest or prevent them from disclosing sensitive information regarding their health or experience. Similarly, family members or friends may try to protect the non-English speaker or themselves, as they may have religious or cultural reasons not to repeat exactly what has been said. They may wish to prevent a situation they do not like, such as a hospital admission or a procedure they do not agree with being carried out, or may wish to avoid discussing how the non-English speaker’s injuries actually happened, due to incidents of violence or abuse.

Sometimes, the non-English speaker may fear stigma from a family member or friend and therefore, would prefer someone they do not know who is impartial to interpret for them, and while members of staff may seem sensible, they are often not available in emergencies or out of hours situations.

Focusing on quality

Qualified, experienced and security vetted interpreters provide interpreting services for health and social care professionals. If a health or social care professional is unable to clearly and safely communicate with a non-English speaker, this could result in missed appointments and ineffective medical consultations and/or interviews, which poses risks the patient’s health and social wellbeing, including serious harm or death.

At Capita TI, we provide interpreting services to the public sector including NHS organisations, local government organisations, such as councils, nationwide and in over 250 languages and dialects.

Many of our freelance interpreters hold a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI), which is a nationally recognised interpreting qualification, often referred to as the gold standard.

Interpreter qualifications

DPSIs are not available in all languages, for example, those considered to be very rare. In the case of rare languages, our freelance interpreters must provide proof of appropriate qualifications and demonstrate experience of public sector interpreting. This may include proof of their ability to speak a foreign language and the Cambridge Proficiency in English Certificate or equivalent and/or formal interpreting qualification(s) in the specified language.

When onboarding a new freelance interpreter, there are several necessary security checks such as Right to Work in the UK, ID, and verification that may be relevant depending on which public sector organisations an interpreter will be undertaking assignments for. However, the very minimum check is Enhanced Disclosure Barring Service (eDBS).

Organisations we work with


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