Healthcare professionals are often faced with patients and carers for whom English is not their mother tongue and, in some instances, people who are not able to speak English at all, or certainly well enough to have a conversation in what could be a stressful and complex situation. So what is the best approach to dealing with these cases?
In providing guidance for healthcare professionals a London trust advises;‘ The use of a relative, friend, untrained volunteer or member of staff to interpret for a service user or carer may appear, at first glance, to have several advantages. They are readily available, they may appear to be familiar with the patient’s problems and the patient may find their presence reassuring.’
However there are implications when relatives, friends, untrained volunteers or members of staff are allowed to interpret for individuals.
Relatives and friends
Using relatives and friends to interpret may inhibit the service user or carer from discussing embarrassing issues or disclosing past events such as abuse. There are also risks that relatives and friends may change what is said because they want to:
- Protect the service user or carer from bad news, or decide to tell them in private later
- Withhold information about side effects, believing that it will improve compliance
- Hide the true causes of an injury
The use of an untrained volunteer or member of staff to interpret, although helpful at times, has the following implications:
- Availability cannot be guaranteed, especially in an emergency or outside working hours
- Most will not have received any training in interpreting and although some may have an instinctive understanding of what is required, others may lack empathy or have a poor grasp of the language
- Service users or carers may be worried about confidentiality when using an interpreter who is not qualified or known to them, especially if they are both members of a small community
Professional interpreters will be expected to have had proper training and awareness of these important issues, specifically from a mental health perspective.
The trust has agreed:
Relatives, friends, untrained volunteers or staff should not be used as an interpreting resource. Children should never be used as interpreters.
Extract from ELCMHT Guidance on: The use of interpreters Tim Bishop 06/11/2006
The position of North West Interpreters Ltd
This advice is repeated by many other bodies and confirms the beliefs of North West Interpreters, driven by anecdotal evidence over more than ten years of providing services to health professionals as well as other organisations.
Whenever interpreting is required, staff should use qualified personal interpreters provided by a professional interpreting service provider.
By employing North West Interpreters:
HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS ARE ABLE TO MATCH NEED WITH APPROPRIATE SKILL LEVELS IN ORDER TO MANAGE BUDGET CONSIDERATIONS
Link to whole Tim Bishop report: http://www.eastlondon.nhs.uk/uploads/documents/interpreting_guidelines_v10_october_2006.pdf