(United Kingdom) New translation program set to drive down NHS interpreting costs

13 01 2009

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, health service trusts are being hit by soaring translation costs totaling £50 million a year.

One in six of the 200 trusts who released the data said their annual bill for interpreters had more than doubled in the last year.  

SignTranslate, a company owned by SignHealth, the healthcare charity for deaf people, is launching SignTranslate Hospital, a new web-based translation program to help hospital staff to communicate with patients who are non-English speaking or deaf.

The program translates pre-defined medical questions from English into twelve foreign languages including Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, and Polish. The translated questions are displayed in written and spoken format, so that the non-English speaking patient need not be literate to understand the question.

The questions are also translated into British Sign Language (BSL) using short video clips. For more in-depth consultations, a deaf person and clinician can use the SignTranslate program to access a “live” fully qualified BSL interpreter via a web-cam.

SignTranslate Hospital has been developed with advice from some of the country’s leading hospitals and was recently awarded the e-Health Insider ICT product innovation award sponsored by BT.

The program provides a library of questions supporting A & E, audiology, maternity, and general ward care. There is also a special application for major incidents, eg, industrial chemical spillages or serious traffic accidents.

Phil Murden, managing director of SignTranslate said: “NHS trusts have a duty to produce a race equality scheme under the Race Relations Act as well as address the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure equality of access to information and the trust’s services.

Translators are a scarce resource especially BSL interpreters, which means short-notice, emergency appointments are often a problem. SignTranslate offers a quick and cost effective means of improving communication during a hospital visit when an interpreter is not available.”

The GP version of the program, endorsed by the Department of Health, is already being used successfully by practices throughout England and is proving invaluable for short notice unsupported appointments.