OBJECTIVE: To determine the support for a national telephone interpreter service from accident and emergency (A&E) departments across the UK, and the factors that may influence that support. To determine the nature of interpreter needs for these departments. METHODS: Postal questionnaire survey of 255 A&E departments in the UK. RESULTS: A total of 197 replies were received, a response rate of 77.3%. Altogether 186 respondents answered the question on support for a national telephone interpreter service and 124 (66.7%) would support one. Those departments in favour were no more likely to have required an interpreter in the last seven days (chi 2 = 0.16, df = 1, p = 0.69), be in the inner city (Fisher's exact test, two sided probability, p = 1), have predominantly local population needs compared with tourist needs (chi 2 = 0.65, df = 1, p = 0.42), or be current users of a telephone interpreter service (chi 2 = 0.01, df = 1, p = 0.93). Seventy-nine of 180 (42.9%) departments had used some form of interpreter in the seven days preceding completion of the survey. Seventy-six of 86 (88.4%) of those departments using face to face interpreters had experienced difficulty obtaining an interpreter out of hours. Nationally, the following proportion of all A&E departments listed the named language as occurring among the three most common languages requiring interpretation: French 0.46 (95% confidence interval 0.42 to 0.50), Urdu 0.30 (0.26 to 0.34), and German 0.24 (0.21 to 0.27). CONCLUSIONS: There is widespread need and support for a national telephone interpreter service that would match the requirements of 24 hour emergency health care provision.
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