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Standards for health services in Australian prisons

Criterion 1.2.3 Interpreter services

Our service has policies and procedures for communicating with patients who are not proficient in the primary language of our medical staff.


A. Our medical and other clinical staff can describe how they communicate with patients who do not speak the primary language of our medical staff (interview).

B. Our health service has a list of contact numbers for interpreter services (document review).


Healthcare professionals have a professional obligation to ensure they understand their patients’ problems, and that their patients understand medical information and recommendations they are given. The use of interpreters can be challenging and time consuming. In some situations however, the use of interpreters is essential for providing safe, high quality healthcare. This means health service staff need to know that interpreter services exist and how to access them.

It is important to protect the privacy and confidentiality of a patient when using interpreters for clinical care. In most circumstances the use of other prisoners or departmental staff to interpret on behalf of patients would be inappropriate. There may be exceptional circumstances where this would be required, but in general, it is considered unsuitable in good medical practice.

The Australian Government Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) can assist health services in providing quality care to patients. Further information about TIS can be found by calling 131 450 or visiting

The Australian Government also funds an interpreting service for patients who are deaf and use Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN). Information about this free AUSLAN interpreting service is available at

Due to the high incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians, health service staff need to know how to access relevant interpreter services for their region. Further information regarding access interpreter services for Indigenous Australian languages can be found at or

All reasonable efforts need to be made to access an interpreter with a compatible dialect and of an acceptable ethnic group or gender. Inadequate access to appropriate interpreters may discourage patients from seeking care from the health service. Multilingual prompt cards can be displayed in consulting rooms to help the health service engage the most appropriate interpreter for the patient.

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