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Frequently Asked Questions for Patients and their Families/Carers

Speaking your language - helping our community access healthcare

Why is it important to use an interpreter?

Patients and their family and carers who do not speak English as a first language or are deaf have the right to free, confidential and professional health care interpreters when they use public health services.

Many patients and carers who speak English as a second language may feel that they do not need an interpreter. However, the stress associated with illness or injury and the unfamiliarity of hospital can affect language skills, particularly if the person is elderly or has learnt English recently. People can find their ability to communicate deteriorates in hospital. Also, conversational English is very different from the language used to discuss medical conditions, treatment options and health concepts. For this reason, it is best to use a professional health care interpreter.

Can I use a friend or family member to interpret for me?

No.  It is NSW Ministry of Health policy that health care providers use professional health care interpreters.  Professional health care interpreters are trained in medical terminology and are bound by a code of conduct that requires them to relate information accurately and in full. 

Family and friends may leave out or change information, and this may impact on your care. Family and friends may miss information because they want protect their relative or friend, because they feel embarrassed or overwhelmed, because they don't understand the information to be interpreted or because they don't know how to phrase it in their community language.

Also, it is not acceptable to use a child to interpret for a parent or family member. In addition to the risks outlined above, being asked to discuss health information places unnecessary pressure and stress on a child.

I want my health information to remain private. Do I still have to use an interpreter?

Professional health care interpreters are bound by a code of conduct which states that they must maintain confidentiality about any of your health information. They are not permitted to disclose any information about you.

Do I need to arrange my own interpreter?

No. Your health care practitioner is responsible for organising the interpreter for you.

What if I need to use an interpreter to contact the health service?

Non-English speaking patients can contact the health service by telephoning the Translation and Interpreter Service (TIS) on 131 450. They should tell the operator the language that they speak and ensure that they have the name and telephone number of the staff member that they wish to contact. This is a free, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week service.

Can I have an interpreter from SHCIS when I visit my family doctor or specialist in their private practice?

SHCIS does not provide interpreters for doctors in their private practices.

The Translation and Interpreter Service (TIS) provides a Doctors Priority Line, which is a free, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week telephone interpreting service. Doctors in private practice can use the Doctors Priority Line when their services are claimable under Medicare and provided to non-English speakers who are Australian citizens or permanent residents. Doctors must register with TIS in advance to use this service. For further information, please call TIS Language Policy Liaison Team on 1300 575 847.