A new regional service to deliver improved access to sign language interpreting for people who are Deaf has moved a step closer to implementation.
The Regional Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service will provide interpreting services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users accessing health and social care.
Approximately 8,000 people use sign language in Northern Ireland.
The initiative will create a standardised service across Northern Ireland for those who need sign language interpreters to support their communication with health and social care staff.
It is part of the Regional Communication Support Services Programme, which sees the Health and Social Care Board working with the Business Services Organisation and other partners to redesign and improve existing communication service provision for people who are Deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing.
The programme aims to deliver a high quality, safe and timely service that is sustainable and consistent across Northern Ireland. It was set up following an RQIA review and subsequent public consultation in 2016, which identified the need for a regional approach.
At present, interpreting services for GP, hospital and community appointments are accessed and provided differently in each Health and Social Care Trust area. Subsequently people’s experience of the service differs regionally in, for example, the availability of the service, how interpreters are booked, the quality of service provided and the distances interpreters can travel.
The new regional service will be delivered by the Business Services Organisation who will recruit and employ a number of sign language interpreters directly to provide a service 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. The core service will run from Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. There will also be an on-call system for out of hours or emergencies.
A recruitment process has started to appoint interpreters to work in the new service, which will be developed on an incremental basis over the coming 12 months.
A Regional Advisory Group will be established in early 2021 to bring together key stakeholders, including Service Users and relevant community/voluntary sector partners, to monitor the service’s implementation.
Marie Roulston, Director of Social Care and Children, Health and Social Care Board, explained: “Despite the ongoing and considerable challenges facing our health and social care services, we are committed to delivering this important programme of change, to provide equal access to all HSC services for people who are Deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing.
“This new service will support effective communication between Deaf service users and Health and Social Care staff by providing a high quality, regionally consistent service, which will improve the responsiveness and safety of interpreting, lead to greater accountability and provide value for money.
BSO’s Interim Chief Executive Karen Bailey said: “BSO is proud to be involved in developing and delivering this ground-breaking regional service: for the first time in Northern Ireland, a public service will employ, support, and develop sign language interpreters directly, recognising and valuing their professional skills and the vital role that they play in supporting effective communication with Service Users.
“This is a much needed service, and will allow the Deaf community and sign language users to access health and social care on the same basis as hearing people.”
Liz Duncan, Chair of the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf people (NRCPD), welcomed the work being undertaken to deliver the new service:
“The 2016 review made important recommendations for change and improvement, and NRCPD is pleased that the HSCB and BSO are working to deliver those improvements. The recruitment of NRCPD registered sign language interpreters is an important step forward, creating an opportunity to put quality, accessibility, and accountability at the heart of the new Face to face Sign Language Interpreting Service.
“As a member of the original RQIA review panel I am particularly pleased that this new service will support high quality, flexible and accountable provision for people who are Deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing.”