The United Kingdom’s healthcare system comprises primary medical care services (general practitioners), other primary care settings, and hospital sites. Together they form a comprehensive network to provide accessible and quality healthcare services to its diverse population. GPs act as the first point of contact, while other settings offer timely care and hospital sites cater to specialised treatments and emergencies.


In 2015, NHS England developed and published a draft set of principles on its website to support local commissioners of primary care services. It was later revised and incorporated into guidance to help the commissioners access quality translation or interpreting services, or review existing services. The first principle in this document states that patients should be able to access primary care services in a way that ensures their language and communication requirements do not prevent them receiving the same quality of healthcare as others.

Language barriers in the UK healthcare system


Given that the UK is home to a diverse population, not every patient can be expected to be competent in the English language. Patients with limited English proficiency often face challenges in accessing healthcare services. Language barriers can hinder effective communication with healthcare providers, leading to misunderstandings and potential misdiagnosis.


Both translation and interpreting play a crucial role in a primary care. Interpreting involves translating the spoken words in real time, and interpreters are often used during medical consultations where the patient and healthcare practitioner do not speak the same language, to allow for clearer and more effective oral communication. Translation services on the other hand deal with conveying the meaning of written words in another language.


The seventh principle in NHS England’s ‘Guidance for commissioners’ relates directly to translation of documents, which help professionals to provide effective health care and supports patients to manage their own heath. This includes, but is not limited to, translating the following documents into the patient’s preferred language: consent forms, patient information, product registration documents, instructions for use, declaration of conformity, patents, appointment reminders and medical records.


For patients with medical records in a language other than English, translating these documents into English as soon as possible also becomes essential for healthcare providers to access and understand the patient’s medical history accurately.


Outcomes of allowing patients language access


Allowing patients to have language access through accurate translation has positive outcomes, notably in terms of patient safety and active participation. When medical information, including diagnoses, treatment plans and medication instructions, is effectively translated into the patient’s language, it significantly reduces the risk of misinterpretations and medical errors, thus improving patient safety. Accurate translations ensure that patients fully understand their healthcare details, enabling them to actively participate in their treatment journey and make informed decisions about their health.


Furthermore, breaking language barriers and offering language access services contribute to high patient satisfaction. Patients feel more heard, understood and cared for when they can communicate and understand documentation comfortably in their native language. This fosters a sense of trust and confidence in the healthcare system, leading to enhanced patient-clinician relationships.


Role of a professional translation agency in the healthcare industry


Ensuring that you are collaborating with a trustworthy translation partner is vital in the healthcare industry. As further specified in the guidance, documents translated for the benefit of patients must be translated by competent and appropriately trained translators and not by practice staff. Moreover, automated online translating systems or services such as Google Translate should be avoided as there is no assurance of the quality of the translations.


Surrey Translation Bureau (STB) stands as a reliable choice, delivering specialised medical translation services to pharmaceutical and healthcare organisations in the UK and abroad. Independently certified to both the general business quality standard BS EN ISO 9001:2015 and the translation industry standard BS EN ISO 17100:2015, we maintain the highest service quality for our clients. Our numerous accolades and positive customer feedback further reinforce our commitment to excellence.


One of our key clients, PatientView can testify, “We have been working with STB for the last ten years on several challenging multi-language projects and they have always delivered quality work in a timely manner. In the field of healthcare it is of primary importance that work is accurate, and we have every confidence in STB in delivering on that front. They are very professional and efficient and it’s always a pleasure to speak to their team.


Recent projects taken on by STB for the primary healthcare sector include a series of patient letters covering the full spectrum of their healthcare journey, from invitation to appointment to analysis of test results.


If you work in the primary healthcare sector, get in touch with our experienced team to discuss translation of vital information that will help you provide effective healthcare.

Contact us

Get a quote