Language interpretation

Key messages for primary care practitioners

  • General Medical Council guidance on Good Medical Practice [external link] states that you must make sure, wherever practical, that arrangements are made to meet patients' language and communication needs.
  • Language is of enormous importance in the context of the health practitioner-patient consultation, and is important to ensure safety with respect to diagnosis and prescription.
  • Where language is a problem in discussing health matters, offer a professional interpreter rather than using family or friends. 
  • It is particularly inappropriate to use children as interpreters for adults.
  • Mention interpreting needs when referring to other health professionals.


Useful resources

NHS 111 [external link] (telephone 111) can provide a confidential interpreter for those using the service in many other languages. In areas where NHS 111 has not yet been launched, NHS Direct is still available on 0845 4647 and can provide confidential interpreters for those using the service.

Interpreter services in each PCT: To access telephone or live interpreter services, you need to contact your local Primary Care Trust [external link] or Patient Advice and Liaison Services [external link] (PALS) to find out what is available in your local area.

Newham Language shop [external link] - translated materials such as new appointment letters, home visit letters and appointment reminder letters in different languages

Language chart [external link] - a chart of translations that asks your patient to point to their language and advises them that an interpreter for that language will be called.

Picture Communication Tool [external link] comprising a set of drawings that can be used with people whose first language is not English.

Interpreter Guidelines [external link] - on the UK Screening Portal

Interpreting in a health context [external link] training video from HPA migrant health event 12 November 2012

Good Practice Guide to Interpreting [external link] - patient information about using interpreting services, produced as part of a project co-ordinated by the Migrant & Refugee Communities Forum. This guide was produced to help patients and their families to understand why they should communicate with health services through a formal interpreter. It explains why interpreting is important and how to use an interpreting service correctly.  Available in English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Somali.

Department of Health resource: Emergency multilingual phrasebook [external link] Available in Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian-Bosanski, Chinese, Czech, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Lingala, Macedonian, Pashto, Polish, Portugese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tamil, Turkish, Ukranian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Welsh

Health in my language [external link] - translated information about health and health services in Scotland.

Google translate [external link] - type text or translate a document in over 50 languages

Refugee Council multilingual website [external link]

NHS Choices: health information in other languages [external link]

myUKinfo: health [external link]

NHS local: languages and minority ethnic communities [external link] - links to various resources

NHS Heron Patient Information [external link] - searchable information in a range of community languages

Chinese National Healthy Living Centre [external link] - interpretation support and multi-lingual health helpline

e-GP online e-learning resource [external link] for NHS General Practitioners and doctors undertaking specialty training for UK general practice, jointly developed by the Royal College of General Practitioners and e-Learning for Healthcare

Black and minority ethnic groups health needs assessment chapter [external link to PDF] by PS Gill, J Kai, RS Bhopal and S Wild

ethnoMED [external link] - an American website with a range of patient education materials in different languages

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