Equality Act 2010 and Interpreting Services in the UK

6th Dec 2013

NHS serves a richly diverse population and therefore it is crucial that it ensures that all its services are fair and equally accessible to everyone. Over 200 languages are spoken in the UK by members of public that are originated from 90 different countries.

Although it is argued at the moment that everybody must learn English, it is totally unrealistic to expect all your patients to speak English.

Here are some stats:

• English is a second language to one in 13: More than 100 dialects are spoken by large numbers of people in the UK.

• In England and Wales 138,000 people cannot speak English at all.

• More than four million in the UK speak English as their second language and therefore likely to need an interpreter during a medical consultation. That is 7.7% of the population.

Polish has overtaken Welsh as the second most spoken language in the UK.

It is well established that language barriers contribute to health inequalities. As the migrant population in Britain continues to grow, a greater number of our patients will be non-English speaking or have limited English. Caring for a large number of patients with limited English can be stressful, time-consuming, risky and - as communication is so fundamental in the doctor-patient relationship - unsatisfactory. For the patients on the receiving end, it's even worse.

Equality Act 2010 is very clear about non-discrimination of individuals from different cultures, countries and races. With different cultures, countries and races come different languages.

With the above statistics in mind, NHS can not follow the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 without offering interpreting services to the 7.7% of the UK population.

Although the argument at the moment is whether to reduce the budget for interpreting services or not, at Pearl we believe more funding for interpreting services is desperately needed;  increased numbers of interpreters would allow improved flexibility in the service we provide.

Adequate time also needs to be allowed to use the interpreters, so that clinic slots are longer and staffing levels reflect the time demands that good communication with high numbers of non-English speaking patients really require.

NHS staff can't be expected to become fluent in the many different languages they encounter either. Interpreting is a very niche occupation that require a lot of training and experience. You simply can not expect that from medical staff. But training in working with interpreters should be more available, alongside better information for staff regarding differing health beliefs and behaviours dependant on culture and background; these additional services are provided by Pearl Linguistics free of charge.

Zeynep Demirbilek, Managing Director


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