Health Care Interpreter Service – Lodging a complaint

Published in L’Angolo della Terza Eta, La Fiamma 1/7/2013

Alba was anxious about her upcoming appointment with the specialist at the hospital. She was facing major surgery and her doctor had told her that an interpreter would be present at the appointment to make sure that she understood the procedure and any possible complications. When she arrived for the appointment, the interpreter was not there. The receptionist rang the Health Interpreter Service to find that an interpreter had not been booked and it was too late for them to provide one. The receptionist then rang the Telephone Interpreter Service but an interpreter was not immediately available. Alba was asked to take a seat in the waiting area.

After two hours of waiting, Alba finally got to speak to the specialist with the help of a telephone interpreter. However, she went home feeling unhappy and distressed by the process. Her friend later urged her to lodge a complaint. Alba was reluctant to do this because she didn’t want to “make trouble” and feared a complaint might jeopardise her surgery.

At a recent meeting of aged care workers in Sydney, the issue of the use of health care interpreters was raised. It was mentioned that many people of Italian-speaking background are unaware of their right to have an Italian interpreter present when receiving services within the public health system, particularly when discussing important health issues or giving consent to medical procedures. It also noted that most people are unlikely to complain if they do not receive service.

The Health Care Interpreter Service (HCIS) strives to provide high quality interpreting services as well as professional customer service. However it is acknowledged that there might be times when users of the service may wish to raise a concern or lodge a complaint. All complaints are used constructively to help HCIS eliminate any problems and improve the service.

When your doctor makes a booking for you at a public hospital to see a specialist (or you contact a hospital via TIS to make an appointment for yourself, or a family member calls on your behalf to make an appointment), it is very important to advise the hospital staff at that time that you require an interpreter for your future appointment.

It is then the obligation of that department to contact a relevant HCIS and book the interpreter for that appointment. Public health staff are very much aware of the policy directive to utilise professional health care interpreters and they book interpreters at all times. However, if they accidently fail to do so and you are not happy about this, you can raise this matter with a “Patient Representative”, or you can put your concerns in writing. The same process applies if you are dissatisfied with services provided by HCIS.

Patient Representatives work for healthcare administrators to address the concerns and special needs of patients and their families. They evaluate patient satisfaction, investigate complaints, collect information about patient dissatisfaction, work with departments to resolve patient problems, and educate staff. In NSW they are employed in major public hospitals, Monday to Friday, during office hours (except public holdays). The Patient Representative will forward a complaint to the manager of the relevant HCIS. The manager will inform the patient of the outcome.

If you choose to speak to a Patient Representative you have the right to have an interpreter assist you during the interview. The Patient Representative is likely to book an interpreter without you needing to ask for this. However, at the time of making the appointment, you can remind them of the need to have an interpreter present. If you are intending to complain about an interpreter, you can request that interpreter be exempted from assisting with the interview.

If you prefer to lodge your complaint in writing, you can send your concerns to the manager of the relevant HCIS by mail, email or fax. You can write in Italian and HCIS will engage an Italian translator to translate the complaint into English. The matter will be investigated and the HCIS manager will write back to you with the outcome of the investigation.

When making a complaint, either in person or in writing, please provide the following information:

1. The date and time of the service

2. The place of the service (ie. name of the hospital as well as relevant department eg. Physiotherapy)

3. The name of the interpreter, if you can recall this. (If not, the date/time and venue could assist the managers to check the booking records and find out who the interpreter in question was).

4. What your concerns were.

5. Any suggestions for improvement (if applicable)

All complaints are investigated and finalised within 21 days of receiving them.

How to Lodge a Complaint it