Please note, SignHealth does not provide face-to-face BSL/English interpreters. You can look for interpreters on the NRCPD site.
BSL/English interpreters relay conversation between deaf British Sign Language users and hearing people. The interpreter will translate BSL into spoken English and spoken English into BSL for easy communication between both parties.
Deaf people have a legal right to request a fully qualified British Sign Language interpreter in any healthcare setting – GP surgery, hospital, dentist, clinic – to assist with their communication needs.
It is the health provider’s responsibility to book and pay for the interpreter, not the Deaf patient’s.
Unless a patient specifically tells you that they want a family member or friend to interpret for them, under no circumstances should you ask. Using a fully qualified interpreter ensures information is translated clearly meaning the patient can make fully informed decisions and the doctor can make accurate diagnoses.
For more information on Deaf people’s right to access, see our pages on the Accessible Information Standard.
How to Book a BSL Interpreter
To find a qualified sign language interpreter, search online for BSL interpreters in your local area, for example BSL Interpreter, Buckinghamshire. Ensure any organisation you contact provides interpreters who are on the National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD), and check for their NRCPD badge upon arrival.
If possible, try and book an interpreter up to three weeks before the service is needed. In emergency situations, interpreting agencies will try their best to provide an interpreter faster. If you cannot get a face to face interpreter quickly enough an online interpreting service might be able to help.
For staff working in a mental health settings, the Association of Sign Language Interpreters has produced some helpful guidance.
Advice for Deaf People Before an Appointment
- When you book a healthcare appointment, be assertive and ask for an interpreter. It is your right according to the Equality Act 2010 and the new Accessible Information Standard.
- If you are worried about asking for an interpreter, you may want to print out an ‘Our Health in Your Hands Card’. This card can be shown to receptionists when you want an interpreter booked.
Advice for Deaf People After an Appointment
- If you asked for an interpreter to attend your appointment but one was not provided, you can make a formal complaint. Watch the BSL How to Complain video for more information about interpreter problems, or the SignHealth Making a Complaint clip for information about how to complain about a healthcare provider.
- Ask your healthcare provider to make a record of your communication needs on your file.
- For more information about your rights as a Deaf person, visit the Our Health in Your Hands website; a campaign from SignHealth, Signature, NRCPD, the British Society for Mental Health and Deafness, Action on Hearing Loss, the BDA and ASLI.