Interpreting for the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world irrevocably, and it is no different in the translation and interpretation market. During the pandemic, many face-to-face assignments started taking place via telephone or video platforms in 2020.

Online meetings are now commonplace, especially during current lockdowns. Many of us had not heard of (or regularly used) Microsoft teams, Zoom and Skype platforms before. For remote interpreting, the procedure is as follows: you will receive an email with an invitation to interpret for non-speakers and health care professionals. It is a very straight forward platform where you need a good internet connection and a quiet room with an ideally neutral background. You can change your background in settings, so that participants cannot see your home in case it may not be as neatly organised as you would like. Changing the background can easily solve that challenge by using the platform’s built-in backgrounds, or you could use your own photos. It is important for you to use an external light so the meeting will take place in a well-lit room. Avoid having windows behind you, so you do not present a dark silhouette. When using a virtual background, try to remain stationary as that will help reduce any odd halo-effects.

Usually, this service is used when participants are in different geographical locations. Many health care professionals are conducting their clinics from their home so they can still speak to their patients without causing any delays.

Remote interpretation may well lead to an increase in demand for interpretation services in the long run, because they are more attainable, affordable and easier to arrange, especially for smaller organisations who had to pay previously for travel time, mileage and travel expenses of interpreters.

There are still some face-to-face appointments which are going ahead. Planned surgeries and examinations simply cannot be conducted remotely. In these cases, the interpreter needs to be prepared well in advance. There is a requirement to wear a face covering to enter a building (hospital, GP surgery, etc.). You may be asked to change your own face mask for a mask provided by NHS because they cannot guarantee how many times the interpreter used it before, and the safety of patients always comes first. One of the easiest ways to stop COVID-19 is not shaking hands but rather greeting people verbally.

You may be required to be closer than 2m to a procedure which involves aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs). In that case, the practice will be required to provide the same PPE as the healthcare professional undertaking the procedure and guidance will be provided to the interpreter on how to fit correctly.

If you decide to use your own face covering and you have been offered an IIR mask, then your agency will not accept any liability. It is also very important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap for 20 or more seconds. Hand sanitiser is also acceptable. If you can, try to avoid touching any common-use furniture or surfaces (tables, chairs, reception desk, etc.). Avoid eating and drinking if possible.

To be continued…