2 August 2017
Translating service for foreign patients in Glasgow facing cuts, union fear
A translating service for foreign patients using NHS services in Glasgow could be cut, union leaders fear.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is to carry out a review of the service which provides a bank of 445 sessional interpreters to help consultants and nurses communicate with patients who speak little or no English.
The health board say only 14 are NHS staff, with the majority employed on a freelance basis and mainly working in Arabic, Polish and Mandarin.
Union leaders fear the review will include cuts to the service, such as using phone based interpreter services or encouraging family or friends to interpret for patients.
Unison has also raised a number of concerns about working conditions for existing interpreters, saying they have “poor access” to employment rights, there is a lack of training and support.
A survey carried out by the union found that 86% were not aware how to report any concerns, just under 50% were concerned about the risks of lone working.
Matt McLaughlin, Unison branch secretary, said: “This out of the blue review will worry NHS interpreters and the communities who rely on their help to access services, especially given the millions of pounds that NHSGGC is underfunded.
“NHS bosses need to say here and now, that they will not be cutting services and confirm that the plan is to enhance and improve the service and the conditions of employment.
“If the can’t or won’t, they could face significant pressure from communities and Unison.
“As our multi cultural society ages, there will be a growing demand for interpreter services and action needs to be taken now to ensure that the service is fit for purpose.”
A spokesman for NHSGGC said: “We have access to a team of 474 interpreters – 14 of whom are fixed term staff - to help healthcare staff communicate effectively with a range of service users from different nationalities.
“The vast majority of the interpreters used by the board are not NHSGGC staff.
“The main languages interpreters are used for include Arabic, Polish and Mandarin. However, some languages, such as Mali and Gujarti, are rarely encountered meaning many freelance interpreters are hired on a ‘when required’ basis.
“The interpreting service has been developing over recent years and a review of the service is scheduled for this year to ensure it continues to meet the needs of our service users.
“The review will involve a range of stakeholders including our GP colleagues and our staffside representatives.
“We will also be considering the information provided by UNISON and working with them to address any outstanding issues.
“We can offer an assurance that none of the interpreters carry out any lone working, nor will they be asked to. “They work with a healthcare professional at all times and are instructed not to enter a clinical room or, if working in a community setting, a patient’s home unless accompanied by a member of staff.
“If any of our interpreters were to raise a concern regarding the impact on them we would provide support through our Occupational Health and Counselling Service.
“If a freelance interpreter felt it necessary to submit a health and safety concern, NHSGGC staff can help them complete a submission through our DATIX incident system.