Accessing Interpreters in Health Care

April 12, 2024

Health literacy is defined as “being able to access, understand, check and use information to make choices about health.” There is a correlation between those who have a low health literacy and those who suffer from long-term health issues. For people who aren’t fluent in English, this makes it even more difficult to understand the information that’s given to them.

When might you need an interpreter?

  • At a doctor’s appointment
  • At the dentist or eye doctor
  • At a pharmacy
  • In an ambulance
  • At the hospital
  • When calling 999 or 111

How to ask for an Interpreter?

If at the doctors, dentist or eye doctor’s and you require an interpreter, say the word “interpreter” followed by your language. It is recommended to ask for a double appointment if you require an interpreter at the doctors as your appointment may take longer. Also, only NHS patients will receive interpreters at dentist and eye doctors’ appointments.

At a pharmacy or when in an ambulance say the word “interpreter” followed by your language and they will be able to telephone an interpreter for you. Similar with calling 999 or 111, they will transfer your call to a telephone interpreter.

If your GP is referring you for a hospital appointment, let them know that you need an interpreter and the language that is required. This will allow them to request the service in the referral. The hospital will make arrangements for you with either a face-to-face or a telephone interpreter. Otherwise, you could contact PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Services) or contact the hospital department to see if there is an interpreter already scheduled.

If you don’t have an appointment at the hospital, let them know when you arrive, and contact for a telephone interpreter will be arranged for you.

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