PSA accreditation: It has nothing to do with the medical model

PSAThe NRCPD has sought answers from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) as to whether they could apply as a voluntary register to be accredited. We still have no clear answer but is this really a move towards what some perceive as aligning interpreting to a medical model?
Our history as an emerging profession of Sign Language Interpreters has lead us from the DWEB (Deaf Welfare Examination Board) interpreters to CACDPs first register in the 1980s which mostly consisted of those already working with Deaf people – social workers and Teachers of the Deaf. In the late 1980s funding was sourced and the Citi Services course became the first training course for interpreters. We were moving away from the helper model towards a more professional route into interpreting.
At the same time models of Deafness went from the medical model to social model i.e. there is nothing wrong with the individual that needs to be treated but rather that it is society that causes barriers. Then to a cultural model in which Deaf people have their own culture and language.
If only the government saw Deaf people that way. What we have had since 2010 is an tidal wave of outsourcing of interpreting services which has seen the lowest bidder win contracts across all sectors. This has been especially bad with cash strapped hospitals, mental health trusts and primary care services. Many NRCPD registered interpreters can no longer get any medical bookings now. Many Deaf people are not provided with registered interpreters when attending appointments. The examples of interpreters being used are few and far between. Just see the Our Health in Your Hands work for surveys and, for real life examples, the BSL Act Spit the Dummy campaign. Contract holders often send BSL users to hospitals to interpret who then tell Deaf people they left their yellow badge at home (the NRCPD one).
Outsourcing contracts to providers who are able to get away with not using registered personnel is going back in time and it goes against the government’s health and social care agenda. The only antidote to this is to ensure that all medical services book a NRCPD Registered Interpreter for Deaf people at their appointments. We know the damage it does if they do not. See the RNID’s A Simple Cure report, the TEA report. See the current work by OHIYH. See SignHealth’s long awaited Sick of It report, launching soon.
To ensure only NRCPD Registered Interpreters are used in medical settings is not going back to a time when the medical model is the prevailing paradigm. Sign Language Interpreters will not have to change their behaviour whilst interpreting nor will they be recognised as only being used for appointments. It is merely a step towards providers only being allowed to book Registered Interpreters rather than the situation now where Deaf people sign consent without knowledge of what they sign, struggle to understand how to take medication, their diagnoses, their prognosis and any treatments prescribed.
Whether PSA accreditation will actually get us a step closer to statutory regulation is unknown. Yet. PSA takes responsibility for both overseeing statutory regulators as well as voluntary registers. It requires registers to undertake audits, to make themselves more fit for purpose. The PSA can only improve the NRCPD and strengthen our position in getting ourselves seen as professionals and ensuring Deaf people have appropriate access. At medical appointments.
We will still work in the media, in courts, at police stations, at art galleries, at wedding and funerals, in work places, at conferences and anywhere else that Deaf people are present and want to gain access in a culturally appropriate way, in sign language. Let’s not confuse models of deafness with one of the areas in which we work. Or used to. With some work by the register we may well work in medical settings once more.

Monitoring the MoJ

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) started the national language services framework on 30 January 2012. As stated in the agreement the contract would be monitored by the MoJ and covers interpreting across HM Courts and Tribunals Service which covers England and Wales.
The first three month period finished on 30th April. The long awaited stats were released and published on the MoJ website on the 24th May.
The general stats reveal there were 26,059 requests in total for an interpreter. The MoJ (i.e. ALS) say that 11% of these requests were cancelled by the courts. Interpreters report that court staff were being pressurised by ALS staff to report a request as cancelled if they could not fulfil it.
Stats say that of the remaining bookings, 81% of bookings were filled. That leaves 8% unfilled plus whichever proportion of the bookings were falsely recorded as cancellations.
The contract stated there should be a 98% fill rate. The 8% equates to 2,085 bookings, further increased by ‘cancellations’ over the period of three months. This is a clear indication this contract is not working.
Let’s bear in mind the 98% contractual obligation and the fact some courts had given up by March and started to book interpreters directly and some just decided not book an interpreter at all. This started to happen in March for BSL as reported on this blog and recent reports suggest this practice continues. The MoJ had also entered not into a one stop shop but what ALS were starting to call a mixed economy. This is the reality of why the stats improved by month.
There is scant information in the summary report of BSL but none at all in the Excel spreadsheet of raw data. The report states that for courts ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ was the 18th most popular category with 241 completed requests. 190 of those were for BSL. For tribunals the summary reports states there were 163 requests, 127 of which were BSL making ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ the 16th most popular in this category.
As an aside the word ‘popular’ in the report conjures up images of people having a choice of what language they request. It is an inappropriate choice of words. ‘Deaf and deafblind languages’ is a clear misunderstanding of this category which includes lip speaking and as stated on page eight finger spelling. We have seen these kind of misunderstandings on the websites of spoken language agencies trying to break into the BSL market for years. One would think for such a large government contract that someone would have made sure they got it right. It is a clear demonstration of a company that does not understand the Deaf community and the access it requires.
Further, it is interesting to note the Excel spreadsheets have tables breaking down requests for the top 20 languages but though the report states BSL is in the top 20 for both courts and tribunals it does not feature in the tables.
We therefore have no data in either the spreadsheet or the report to say how many requests there were in total and how many could not be filled. The only figures available to us are how many bookings were filled which total 404 including lipspeakers and other ‘deaf languages’. The subcontractor (or preferred supplier) states on their website they filled 94% of the 610 received bookings making 573 bookings which does not match the MoJ’s published statistics. As with spoken language bookings not all bookings at the start of the contract were booked though the main supplier as the MoJ were honouring existing bookings for dates in advance which included bookings into February and March. Furthermore this indicates a shortfall of the 98% target using these figures.
In some ways the stats are exactly what everyone expected. They were not produced by the MoJ but the company who won the contract. There has been no independent monitoring and deliberate obfuscation. The British taxpayer does not know what our funds are being spent on and whether this contract is value for money. FOI requests to the MoJ by interpreters and other interested parties have been refused since the contract started. The MoJ has cited that the cost of centrally recording data was too prohibitive and therefore the FOI requests did not have to be fulfilled. People started to send FOI’s directly to courts to ask questions such as how many times had an interpreter not been provided and whether ‘no shows’ had occurred where an interpreter is promised and does not turn up. Questions are still not being answered. Letters and FOI requests get forwarded to MoJ central where the answer is that data collection is… too prohibitive.
In this report for BSL we have only a few sentences to guide us and no transparency as to how many bookings were unfilled. We have no breakdown within the category of ‘deaf and deafblind languages’ either by cancellation, adjournments, filled bookings or no shows.
The report does not give us any useful information. We are left with the knowledge that this company does not fully understand how to give Deaf people access to the courts, that real data is not being provided, that the MoJ is not monitoring the contract and Deaf access has been relegated to a small part of a very large, unsustainable and unsuccessful contract.