Interpreting and translation services have, in recent years, become critical to the smooth and effective delivery of healthcare for some of the people in our country. The National Health Service (NHS) mandates arranging for interpreting and translation services, usually done through a third-party agency, for anyone in need of medical care who is more comfortable communicating in a language other than English. This includes sign languages (BSL, ASL, or equivalent for the deaf or hard-of-hearing individual) or manual languages for the deafblind patient.
Quality of care in the United Kingdom has improved substantially in the last 10 years. Health Boards in Scotland have the responsibility for implementing NHS policy, monitoring practices and implementing local quality improvement and financial incentive schemes.
This includes making sure everyone – patient, patient’s family, patient’s caregivers, and all involved healthcare professionals – clearly and accurately understand who is doing what and why. When languages that are not English are part of the mix, even more care must be taken to make sure the information is properly communicated and understood. Enter the professional interpreter.
Healthcare interpreting is its own kind of beast, not only because of the specialised vocabulary but because it has its own high-stress components. For example, having to tell someone that they have a life-threatening or terminal health condition is not easy to do in any language. Knowing the right words is not enough. Compassion, empathy and tact — although not specifically listed as important tools of an interpreter’s skill set — are most welcome in this kind of situation.
What qualifications do you need to be an interpreter?
To be an effective interpreter, it is not enough to be bilingual or a member of the NHS or medical practice staff. As a result of the quality and confidentiality requirements that exist in the healthcare environment, anyone wishing to be considered as a professional interpreter has to have some qualifications on file.
According to the NHS itself, different kinds of interpreting have different requirements. Face-to-face real-time interpreting takes much more than just being fluent in both the originating and the target languages.
Strictly speaking, it is not necessary to have a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI) in order to be an interpreter for the NHS. According to NHS’s Principles for High-Quality Interpreting and Translation Services, it is important to keep the following in mind:
- Spoken language interpreters should be registered with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). The NRPSI has its own set of qualifications, as well as a code of conduct (as any self-respenacting organisation does) that members must adhere to. Another professional organisation is the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), which can also provide information about becoming a professional interpreter.
- The minimum qualification for face-to-face interpretation in spoken language should be a National Vocational Qualification Level 6 with a health element OR a Diploma in Public Services Interpreting (Health).
- The minimum qualification for telephone interpreters should be a National Vocational Qualification Level 6 with a health element.
- Translation of documents can include the reading to the patient of a letter (or source of information) into the language required by the patient – known as sight translation.
The language agency and individual interpreters are required to comply with NHS information governance requirements.
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