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RCSS Programme – FAQs

Regional Communication Support Service (RCSS) Programme

Frequently Asked Questions

This page will be kept under review and updated as and when necessary, please visit it to be kept up to date.

1 What is the Regional Communication Support Service Programme (RCSS)?

The Regional Communication Support Service (RCSS) Programme refers to the programme of work to deliver improved communication support measures for people who are Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing across all Health and Social Care services in Northern Ireland.

The Programme comprises a range of services and work streams, including but not limited to:

• A new Regional Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service (to be delivered by the Business Services Organisation)
• A Remote Sign Language Interpreting Service (delivered by an external supplier – currently Interpreter Now)
• Deafblind Interpreting, Speech to Text, and Electronic Note Taking (currently delivered by external suppliers via a separate government contract that HSC Staff and Practitioners can access)
• Service user involvement, and
• Sign Language Interpreter workforce development.

This Programme is work in progress.

2 What is the vision of the Regional Communication Support Service Programme?

Equal access to all Health and Social Care services for people who are Deaf, Deafblind, or Hard of Hearing.

3 What is mission of the Regional Communication Support Service Programme?

To deliver high quality, accessible, regionally consistent, and sustainable communication support for people who are Deaf, Deafblind, or Hard of Hearing across all Health and Social Care services, establishing Northern Ireland as a recognised centre of good practice in this regard.

4 Where did the idea for the Regional Communication Support Service Programme come from?

The Regional Communication Support Service Programme originated in a Review of existing communication support services carried out by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) between 2013 and 2016. That Review made a number of recommendations for change, which were published in a 23 week public consultation in 2016. The Regional Communication Support Services Review (for accessing Health & Social Care services), Northern Ireland Consultation Report was published in January 2017.

The majority of respondents to the Consultation agreed with the key recommendation, namely: that a regional communication support service should be supplied by the Business Services Organisation, which is part of the Health and Social Care family of organisations and is linked with all of the Health and Social Care Trusts. On that basis, in 2017 the Health and Social Care Board approved the implementation of the Regional Communication Support Service Programme.

Since then, the Health and Social Care Board and Business Services Organisation have been working together, to design and develop the new service Programme.

Detailed information about all of this this background work including a BSL and ISL version is provided in the update published on this website in November 2019.

5 What has been done to ensure service users and other important stakeholders are involved?

2017-2020: Regional Communication Support Service Programme Steering Group

Over the period 2017-2020, a Steering Group monitored the background work done by the Health and Social Care Board to research, scope, and consult with service users to develop the Regional Communication Support Service Programme The Steering Group was a stakeholder engagement and oversight group that involved Service Users, representatives from the Health and Social Care Trusts, Integrated Care, the Business Services Organisation, sign language interpreters and their professional bodies, and relevant community/voluntary sector organisations.

2021 onwards: Regional Advisory Group

The Regional Communication Support Service Programme Steering Group will not meet again, as its work is complete.

At the Steering Group’s last meeting on 29 January 2020, it was agreed that there was a need to refresh the Terms of Reference and membership of the stakeholder group that will monitor this project into the future. The Health and Social Care Board will therefore establish a new committee called the Regional Advisory Group.

The Regional Advisory Group will include Service Users and other relevant stakeholder representatives from the community/voluntary sector, the Health and Social Care Trust Equality and Sensory Support Teams, and the governing bodies that register and set professional standards for Sign Language Interpreters.

The HSCB will contact individuals and organisations from December 2020 onwards, to establish the new membership. The Regional Advisory Group will aim to meet for the first time in early 2021.

When the Regional Advisory Group is established, an early priority will be to agree an accessible communication strategy to take this work forward.

6 What is the Business Services Organisation (BSO)?

The Business Services Organisation (BSO) is part of the Health and Social Care family of organisations. It provides regional business support functions and specialist professional services to the health and social care sector in Northern Ireland. It is linked to all of the Health and Social Care Trusts, Primary Care Services and the Health and Social Care Board. It is a non-profit making organisation.

7 What is the new Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting service model?

The new Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting service will be delivered by the Business Services Organisation.

It will involve the direct employment of up to six Whole Time Equivalent (6 WTE) sign language interpreters plus one full-time sign language interpreter manager post, by the Business Services Organisation for the whole region. The Whole Time Equivalent posts may be filled by several individuals on a part time basis: for example, up to 12 part time employees.

The service will work as follows: when an individual makes an appointment with a Health and Social Care Service, they will indicate that they need a sign language interpreter. It will be the responsibility of the Health and Social Care professional to make the booking via the Business Services Organisation. This will be facilitated via an existing electronic booking system with which staff are already familiar. When a booking is confirmed, the system will send an automated text message to the Service User, to give them assurance that the interpreter is booked.

The Business Services Organisation will coordinate all bookings for the sign language interpreters, ensuring a consistent regional service that includes out of hours and on-call provision 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. As the employer of the sign language interpreters, the Business Services Organisation will also put in place mechanisms to monitor the quality and impact of their work.

8 What difference will it make?

The new Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting service model is designed to meet the following priority concerns:

Further benefits of this model include:

9 How many interpreters will you employ?

We will recruit for six Whole Time Equivalent sign language interpreter posts. This may involve recruiting up to 12 part-time employees.

We will also recruit for one full-time senior sign language interpreter post, who will fulfil the role of Team Manager.

10 How will the interpreters be recruited?

The Business Services Organisation as the employer will manage the recruitment of the sign language interpreters. The Business Services Organisation has extensive experience of recruitment of professionals into Health and Social Care services in Northern Ireland. The jobs will be advertised publicly and the whole recruitment process is aligned to Health and Social Care human resources standards.

The design of the job description and interview panel are also informed by engagement and consultation carried out over the whole period 2016 to the present with representatives from the Health and Social Care Trusts, the Business Services Organisation, professional registration bodies, relevant community/voluntary sector organisations, and Service Users.

11 Will you make sure there are male and female interpreters?

Yes. We are mindful of the critical importance of offering d/Deaf service users some choice in relation to the gender of their interpreter, particularly in the context of sensitive health or social care appointments. Therefore, we will ensure to have both males and females available via this service and the complementary Health and Social Care remote sign language interpreting service.

12 Will I be able to use the interpreter that I currently use?

This is not guaranteed.

The Business Services Organisation will recruit interpreters based on skills, qualifications, and competencies to be tested in their applications and at interview.

The interpreters that you are already familiar with and trust will be free to apply for the posts, which will be public and openly advertised. Equally, they will be free to decide to not apply for the posts if they do not wish to do so.

We are aware that this may cause you to worry that interpreters you know and trust may not be involved in the new model. This may happen. We are also mindful of the highly sensitive and personal relationships and roles involved in sign language interpretation services, and the central importance of trust, confidentiality, and integrity in d/Deaf culture. Making changes to the way that sign language interpretation works for Health and Social Care goes to the heart of these very sensitive concerns, and will involve careful work and communication. We are committed to this process, and to protecting the safety and privacy of every d/Deaf and deafblind person affected by and involved in our service.

In this situation, we want to give you assurance of the quality and safety of the new model that we are developing to improve the service that you receive. To do this, we will take the following key steps:

13 How can Service Users be assured that the interpreters employed by the Business Services Organisation have the appropriate skills, qualifications, and experience?

The new Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting service model is designed to ensure Health and Social Care services are accessible to Deaf Service Users. It aims to give Service Users assurance that every interpreter working in Health and Social Care is competent and professional, and is held to a high standard of service delivery and accountability.

Under the current system, Health and Social Care cannot give this assurance. Many Service Users have told us that they have experience of poor and inaccurate interpretation and unprofessional conduct by some freelance interpreters. Change is needed to improve this situation, in order to protect Service Users and to ensure a high quality, consistent service across the region.

To deliver this positive change, the interpreters’ job descriptions, including mandatory qualifications and experience, and the competencies to be tested at interview, have been developed in line with regional and national standards and criteria. This has been done in order to ensure that only interpreters who meet very high standards in terms of their proven skills, qualifications, and competencies are employed by the Business Services Organisation.

In addition to skills and competencies, all the interpreters will be required to give proof of registration with their respective professional bodies. In the case of British Sign Language interpreters, this is the National Registers of Communication Professionals Working with Deaf and Deafblind People (UK). We are aware that Sign Language Interpreting Services (Dublin) is looking at a registration process for Irish Sign Language: we will follow those developments closely to adopt the relevant equivalent requirement when it is confirmed.

The Job Descriptions for the Sign Language Interpreters to be recruited by the Business Services Organisation have been finalised and assessed by Human Resources.

The posts have been confirmed at the professional levels we had anticipated, namely:

Agenda for Change is the national pay system for health and social care staff. The assessment of these jobs at Band 6 and Band 7 demonstrates that Sign Language Interpreters are skilled professionals, and that they will be remunerated at the correct level for their qualifications and experience.

14 Will you employ Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreters?

Yes, we will employ Irish Sign Language interpreters.

15 Will you employ International Sign Language interpreters?

We are also aware of a growing need for International Sign Language interpreters across Northern Ireland. As part of the this programme of work, we are also submitting bids to fund training for more Irish Sign Language interpreters, and International Sign Language interpreting skills development.

16 Will there be deafblind interpreters?

We are aware that there are currently limited numbers of interpreters with deafblind interpreting skills. We will ensure that deafblind interpreters are available via a separate government contract that HSC Staff and Practitioners can access. We will also ensure that training and professional development organised for the employed interpreters includes deafblind interpreting skills, both early on in the implementation of the Regional Communication Support Service Programme model and on an ongoing basis.

17 Will there be different interpreters for each of the Trusts?

We anticipate that the sign language interpreters employed by the Business Services Organisation will operate across the whole region, providing the Health and Social Care Trust areas with an equitable and consistent level of service. This may mean that, in practical terms, interpreters will work more frequently with a particular Trust; however, they will not be limited to one Trust area.

18 Will freelance interpreters be able to work for the Business Services Organisation in addition to the employed interpreters?

The model being implemented relies on salaried employees .The service will include a contingency provision in the form of the Remote Sign Language Interpreting Service (provided by an external supplier) and/or, in exceptional situations, access to a separate government contract.

19 What if everyone wants the same interpreter – how will that work?

We will monitor the new service closely, taking into account service users’ feedback, to understand the service user experience and to monitor the performance of all of the interpreters.

If we discover that some Service Users want to use the same interpreters all the time, or that one or two interpreters are consistently requested more than others, we will carefully consider all of the information available to understand what is happening. For example, if the same interpreter is requested to enable continuity in a complex or sensitive case, we will work to support that.

In this way, we will work with service users and the Regional Advisory Group to find a way forward that ensures all service users are heard and receive the safe, high quality service to which they are entitled.

20 Will the service cover evenings and weekends, and out of hours?

Yes. The Business Services Organisation will coordinate all bookings for the sign language interpreters, ensuring a consistent regional service that includes out of hours and on-call provision 24 hours per day, 365 days a year.

The interpreters’ booking arrangements and diaries will be managed centrally by the Business Services Organisation to ensure that emergencies, longer appointments, and unexpected developments are covered.

21 What about rural areas?

The new Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service is being designed specifically to ensure a consistent regional service that delivers equitable provision across the whole of Northern Ireland, including rural areas.

22 How would I make a booking?

The service will work as follows: when an individual makes an appointment with a Health and Social Care Service, they will indicate that they need a sign language interpreter. It will be the responsibility of the Health and Social Care professional to make the booking via the Business Services Organisation.

Ordinarily, individual service users should not need to contact the booking coordinator at the Business Services Organisation directly. However, if you wish to raise a concern, give feedback, or make a complaint about the Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service, the Business Services Organisation will have a clear and accessible complaints process available (see point below).

23 Will the Business Services Organisation send a letter to the Deaf Patient to advise an Interpreter is booked?

The electronic booking system that HSC staff will use to make appointments with the Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service will generate a text message to the Service User that will confirm their appointment and interpreter.

24 How would I get an interpreter in an emergency?

In emergency situations, as in all other circumstances, it will be the responsibility of the Health and Social Care professional who is working with the d/Deaf service user to ensure an interpreter is contacted.

25 How can I give feedback or complain if there are problems?

The Business Services Organisation is currently working to make its feedback and complaints process clear and accessible to d/Deaf service users. This work is based on extensive feedback that the Steering Group (see FAQ 5 above) collected from service users, interpreters, and others in relation to issues and barriers that d/Deaf and deafblind people frequently encounter when they need to make a complaint or give feedback.

The improved feedback and complaints process will include, for example, an easy read version of the complaints policy, options to give feedback via video message, and clear commitments to ensuring independent and confidential investigation of any issues arising with the new service.

The improved Business Services Organisation feedback and complaints process will be quality assured by the Regional Advisory Group, and will be in place for the implementation of the new Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting service. It will be publicised in a clear and accessible format for all d/Deaf service users, their carers, and Health and Social Care staff.

26 Who will pay for my interpreter?

The cost of any sign language interpretation provided through the new face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service will be covered by the Health and Social Care Board, which is commissioning the Business Services Organisation to deliver the new regional service.

27 What protections will be in place for Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) to ensure that they are not expected to interpret for their parents?

It is not appropriate to expect CODAs to act as interpreters.

The Regional Face to Face Sign Language Interpreting Service will give equal access to sign language interpretation services to all d/Deaf service users who need them, regardless of the communication skills of their children, family members, or other carers. Based on this principle, we will work to protect Children of Deaf Adults from any expectation or assumption that they will perform sign language interpretation duties that should be fulfilled by Health and Social Care. It has never been encouraged that CODAs are expected to act as the interpreter in HSC services.

28 What happens next? When will the new service be in place?

The BSO will advertise the Service Manager/ Senior Sign Language Interpreter (Band 7) post in early December 2021. It is anticipated interviews will take place in January 2021.

The HSCB and BSO are already engaged with the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf people (NRCPD) in relation to the recruitment in terms of best practice and ensuring appropriate service user involvement. We will engage local Service Users and independent sign language experts to become involved in that process.

Once the BSO successfully appoints a Service Manager, it will then recruit for the Sign Language Interpreter (Band 6) posts and the administration team that will support the service. We will ‘grow’ the service over the following months, incorporating one Health and Social Care Trust area at a time.

Once the sign language interpreters employed by the Business Services Organisation have been recruited and have undergone their induction process, a plan will be put in place to ensure a seamless transition from the existing arrangements to the new service. This will be communicated widely and as clearly as possible via the Regional Advisory Group.

In the meantime, service users, carers, and sign language interpreters should continue as normal under the existing arrangements.