GP interpreting services in Barnet

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Summary of report content

Limited English proficiency is linked to health inequalities. Research has demonstrated that speaking English as a second language influences a patient's health outcomes. In a study conducted by the ONS, 88% of people who could speak English ‘well’ were in good health compared to only 65% of those who were not proficient in English.

All Barnet GP practices have access to language interpreters through Language Line Solutions; an over the phone interpreting service. However, Healthwatch Barnet has received anecdotal feedback that this interpreting service is not widely used by GPs or known in the local community or amongst practices.

Healthwatch Barnet has examined the awareness and use of interpreting services in Barnet’s GP practices and within the local community who speak English as a second language. A team of Healthwatch Barnet staff and volunteers conducted mystery shopping of all GPs in the borough to identify whether they offer and promote the service. In addition, the team engaged with patients, practices and community organisations to hear their views about the service.

Healthwatch Barnet found that while most surgeries said they offer the service, not all are actively promoting it to their patients. Consequently, most patients who took part in the research were not aware of interpreting services and, therefore, only a small number had used the service. A concerning finding emerged that over a third of the patients did not understand their GP during appointments.

It is particularly important that all local GPs offer interpreting services to their patients. It’s not acceptable for patients who require interpreters to rely on relatives for informal interpretation or have to travel to other GPs further away where the staff speak their community language. This expectation distorts the patient lists, does not provide patient choice and risks ghettoization as patients’ choice is restricted to certain areas.


All GP staff should be trained to use Language Line. This should include instructions on the process, guidance on how to check requirements and engage with patients with no/limited English.

GP practices should update their websites to include clear information about interpreting services.

GP practices should clearly display the CCG ‘Did you know?’ poster in reception and waiting areas.

GP practices should follow good practice when using interpreting services:

  • Practices should offer double appointments for those who require the service.
  • All practices should ensure that patients’ need for an interpreter are consistently recorded in patient records, acted upon and passed to other professionals.
  • Practices should avoid the use of informal interpreters such as family members, other staff members and Google translate in accordance with good safeguarding practices and the NHS Guidance on GP interpreting and translation services.
  • Practices should use face to face interpreters for complex conditions or consultations (in response to the GPs’ concerns that Language Line was too impersonal).

Barnet CCG should update the ‘Did you know?’ poster to include the most relevant languages spoken in the borough and redistribute to the 53 practices to display.

The CCG should monitor the use of Language Line amongst practices and provide support to those practices who are not using the service or using it infrequently.

The CCG should maintain a good working relationship with practices by consulting and informing them about upcoming changes to policy and practice.

Healthwatch Barnet should continue to raise awareness about interpreting services offered in GPs to local patients through their engagement activities.

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General details

Report title 
GP interpreting services in Barnet
Local Healthwatch 
Healthwatch Barnet
Date of publication 
Thursday, 3 October, 2019
Date evidence capture began 
Wednesday, 2 January, 2019
Date evidence capture finished 
Thursday, 31 January, 2019
Type of report 
Key themes 
Communication between staff and patients
Health inequalities
Quality of care
Staff training
Other information of note about this report 
Healthwatch reference number 

Methodology and approach

Was the work undertaken at the request of another organisation? 
Not applicable
Primary research method used 
Engagement event
How was the information collected? 
Visit to provider
If an Enter and View methodology was applied, was the visit announced or unannounced? 

Details of health and care services included in the report

Primary care services 
GP practice

Details about conditions and diseases

Types of disabilities 
What type of pregnancy or maternity themes are included in the report 

Details of people who shared their views

Number of people who shared their views 
Age group 
Mixed / multiple ethnic groups
Sexual orientation 
Not known
Does the information include public's views? 
Does the information include carer's, friend's or relative's views? 
Does the information include staff's views? 
Types of health and care professionals engaged 
Does the information include other people's views? 
What was the main sentiment of the people who shared their views? 

Network Impact
Relationships that exist locally, regionally, nationally have benefited from the work undertaken in the report
Implied Impact
Where it is implied that change may occur in the future as a result of Healthwatch work. This can be implied in a provider  response, press release or other source. Implied impact can become tangible impact once change has occurred.
Tangible Impact
There is evidence of change that can be directly attributed to Healthwatch work undertaken in the report.