Vaccinate the Interpreter: Britain’s Health Service in RFP Worth Up to GBP 80m

Big numbers again from the United Kingdom, where the famed National Health Service on July 8, 2016, launched a request for proposal (RFP) for interpretation and translation services worth GBP 20–80m over the two-year life of the contract.

The new RFP comes hot on the heels of similar tenders for framework agreements from the nation’s Crown Commercial Service CCS (worth up to GBP 250m), the Ministry of Justice (up to GBP 160m), and a procurement organization for the country’s Eastern Shires (up to GBP 120m).

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Even if only a fraction of the promised spend is likely be funnelled through the frameworks, the UK is emerging as a runner-up to the EU in terms of centralized procurement of translation and interpretation.

The RFP totals 74 pages across three documents, with another three vast spreadsheets added for good measure. Bid managers rejoice. Running the tender is the NHS’ procurement arm NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), which is funded by both the suppliers and the participating authorities. According to the bid documents seen by Slator, the Category Manager in charge is a certain Jack Steele.

As with the CCS contract, the NHS deployed the framework model, where a central authority runs the RFPs, chooses the vendors, but then leaves it to them to pitch their services directly to the individual authorities (i.e., the end buyers).

NHS Shared Business Services will help promote the selected LSPs among the end buyers

The SBS promises to support adoption of the framework through a promotional activity run by its field base staff “to ensure greater awareness of the contract.”

The RFP covers the whole of England and is broken down into eight regions: Northwest, London, Northeast & Yorkshire, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, South Central & Southeast Coast, Southwest.

No Time to Lose

Launched on July 8, 2016, RFP submissions are due August 12, the selected vendors will be announced September 26 and, after a two-week so called standstill period, the signing of the framework is expected to take place on October 10. Summer vacations at language service providers (LSP) are likely to be shortened.

Punjabi to Rhaeto-Romance

The RFP is divided into five lots evaluated according to a complex scoring mechanism. The individual lots are Lot 1 Face to Face (spoken language), Lot 2 British Sign Language (BSL), Lot 3 Telephone Interpreting, and Lot 4 Document Translation.

Borrowing a page from CCS’ playbook, which had a catchall lot called “Managed Service,” the SBS also created a fifth lot called “One Stop Shop.” Vendors who win in this category are allowed to do deals with a single authority across all four service categories.

The list of required languages runs to 155 and betrays a certain overzealousness on the part of the SBS (coverage must be for 90% of the languages). In addition to Punjabi, Turkish, Polish and other languages with real-life use cases, the SBS also calls for coverage of Rhaeto-Romance, Basque, and Occitan, which are bound to have close to zero relevance in British hospitals.

Vaccinated Interpreter: Check

For face-to-face interpreting, the RFP calls for a unit price per hour (in GBP). Interpreters should have a recognized qualification, such as a Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI), affiliation with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI), Community Interpreting Certification (CIC), or a bachelor’s degree in interpreting and translation. Service must be provided 24/7.

“Where an organisation requests an interpreter that is fully immunised (i.e. has been vaccinated against Rubella, Varicella, Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis), how will you meet this requirement and what steps would you take if you were not able to provide a fully immunised interpreter?”—NHS Request for Proposal

The SBS does not stop with linguistic qualifications. This being an RFP for a health service, one question in the RFP asks how vendors will meet requests for fully immunized (i.e., vaccinated against Rubella, Varicella, Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis) interpreters and what plan B is if no such interpreter is available.

For Lot 2, British Sign Language, the SBS requests a unit price per two hours (in GBP). For Lot 3, telephone interpreting, the SBS is looking for a unit price per minute (in GBP) and the vendor must agree “to provide a 24 hour service, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.” The RFP also asks vendors to outline how they ensure that interpreters speak from a “private and quiet location, using a telephone line that has adequate sound quality and volume”. Tall order.

Document translation in lot 4 is to be charged in the standard way of price-per-word and there are five pricing tiers from 0–100, 101–1000, 1001–2000, 2001–5000, and 5000+ words. Translators are required to be “fully qualified” with “qualified membership status of a relevant professional body (such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists, American Translators Association and Institute of Translation and Interpreting) and/or hold a degree in their target language.”

Devil in the Detail

Service hours for translation are less demanding than for interpretation—Monday to Saturday 9 AM to 5 PM—but should a vendor be more than 24 hours late with a delivery, the SBS will not pay.

The SBS goes deep into operational execution when it requires vendors to disclose and provide key documents on the interpreters “recruited and supplied” under the contract. These include an interpreter’s immigration status, any previous assignment assessment reports, disciplinary procedures in which the interpreter has been involved, and other details of employment.

What’s more, the contractor must ensure that all details “obtained and verified as part of the recruitment process…are at all times maintained up-to-date.”

In sum, the complex requirements for submitting bids for and executing on the framework contract means the usual suspects like thebigword, Capita TI, and possibly a consortium of smaller players will be selected. We will continue to follow the story and provide updates when the selected providers are announced.

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Gerard Castañeda

Research Associate for Slator.com. Runs, bikes, and climbs mountains for fun.