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Deaf support group hits out at health board’s lack of control in booking interpreters

A deaf support group has hit out at a health board over a lack of control in booking interpreters for urgent appointments.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (UHB) is currently responsible for arranging an interpreter for a deaf patient in the area through the Wales Interpretation and Translation Service (WITS)

This is instead of deaf patients booking an interpreter through WITS directly – something the Cardiff and District Deaf Peoples’ Support Group says causes major complications.

It claims there have been cases where some patients in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan have been unable to gain access to an interpreter for an appointment.

The group also said there have been cases where some patients have not requested an interpreter, but one has been arranged anyway – in most cases, the group points to the inability for deaf people to request support themselves.

Secretary Cedric Moon said the issue of patients having to rely on the health board to book an interpreter through WITS “causes problems” in urgent cases when there might not be enough time.

He added: “However, deaf people are now able to check with WITS whether they have an interpreter for a NHS appointment. The question is why do deaf people need to check?

“They should be automatically informed by WITS or the NHS provider that an interpreter has been booked and given the name of the interpreter.”

Launched in 2009, WITS was originally hosted by Gwent Police. However, that responsibility was taken on by Cardiff Council in 2017.

A freedom of information request made to Cardiff Council revealed the charge for British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters is £102 for three hours (Monday to Friday, between 8am and 8pm).

The charge for nights (8pm to 8am) or Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, £144 for three hours.

Mr Moon said: “Deaf people should be asked whether they need an interpreter or lip-speaker for an appointment. If an interpreter is assigned for a deaf person who has not asked for one, the interpreter is sent away fully paid and it may mean that another deaf person has to wait for one to be available.

“The situation with WITS has arisen because the Welsh Government failed to exercise its duty of care to ensure that WITS services to deaf people meet their needs.”

A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The Wales Interpretation and Translation Service (WITS) is a not-for-profit service providing linguistic professionals in over 120 languages, including BSL, to more than 30 public sector organisations throughout Wales.

“This ‘one-stop-shop’ service for the public sector replaces the need for separate translation arrangements and improves service quality and reliability across the country. On average, the service successfully sources BSL interpreters for 97% of requests made.

“It is the duty of the organisation providing a service to ascertain if an interpreter is required for a service user. Service users are able to confirm if an interpreter has been booked for an appointment directly with WITS, but not to make a booking which must be done by the service provider.

“In cases when an interpreter has been sourced for an organisation but services are cancelled without suitable notice, the organisation is liable for payments due. This is a matter for the organisation using WITS.”

A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale UHB said: “As a health board, we remain committed to working with our deaf communities to improve their access to BSL interpreters where required, either in person or virtually.

“Following concerns presented by the deaf community, who expressed how anxious it could be for people if they did not have confirmation before an appointment that an interpreter had been organised, WITS instigated the ability for people who are deaf to contact them through a BSL video call via their website regarding whether a BSL interpreter had been booked.

“The process in the health board is to book an interpreter when organising an appointment to ensure that this is in place ahead of time, and where possible, the patient’s preference for a nominated interpreter can be requested.

“We welcome any concerns from anyone who foresees any issues with this process to contact our Concerns team, either through our sign-video concerns telephone line, or via email using concerns@wales.nhs.uk”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Where patients require a BSL interpreter, health boards should make the necessary arrangements and ensure that interpreters meet appropriate standards. We continue to work with the NHS to help them meet those standards.”

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