Calls for interpreters to become legal requirement for NHS providers

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Health watchdogs are calling for interpreters to be made a legal requirement for all healthcare settings after a survey exposed worrying gaps in the service.

As part of national research, Healthwatch Norfolk quizzed people with English as their second language about their experiences of accessing healthcare in the county.

The study found a number of concerning difficulties felt by these people as they attempted to use of health services in the region.

Among them was a Russian woman who felt she could not ask the right questions and a Romanian man who said he "never" received interpretation at his GP.

Participants also raised concerns that they were forced to enlist the help of friends or neighbours to interpret for them - meaning sharing intimate, personal details about medical conditions.

As a result of the findings, bosses at the watchdog are calling for interpreters to be made a legal requirement in all healthcare settings and for a co-ordinated translation service to be set up across all levels of health and social care.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "This report does not make comfortable reading, especially set against the context of the imminent arrival of refugees from Ukraine.

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"We have heard from patients who are having to share intimate medical details with members of their community as the only means of being able to communicate with their doctor, as well as general concerns about interpreter access.

"This is a big hurdle towards offering equal healthcare for all.

"People's language and nationality should not be a barrier to getting help. Putting the requirement for translation in law will help ensure people will get the care they need - regardless of their nationality.

"There is also the wide-ranging issue which we come across regularly of different departments and areas of health and social care not talking to each other.

"As we move towards greater integration, this is the ideal time to have a system that flags up individual patient needs and ensures they are met at every level of their healthcare journey.

"The days of asking a friend or neighbour to translate intimate and personal medical information must end."

Case studies

A Russian woman living in Norfolk told the survey: "I have regular consultations every three months and the conversation is very short and usually the same.

"Sometimes I feel like they treat you as if you are in a slaughterhouse. One comes, one goes.

"I do not feel I am in safe hands but I have no other options.

"Although my appointments are routine, sometimes I may have questions that I want to ask, but I cannot because I wouldn't know how to say it in English - so I keep quiet."

A Romanian man who also participated, added: "At the GP surgery, we never receive an interpreter. At the hospital, we do manage to have one all the time. Even over the phone we get an interpreter."