Pearl Linguistics, which provides face-to-face, phone, and BSL interpretation and document translation for practices across England, went into liquidation on 2 March.
The firm was one of 14 providers on NHS Shared Business Service’s (SBS's) interpretation and translation services framework procured by CCGs and NHS trusts.
SBS, a joint venture firm owned by DH and Sopra Steria, which provides back office and procurement services to the NHS, said it has made interim arrangements to minimise disruption to GPs.
NHS England confirmed that a ‘minimal’ number of pre-booked appointments had been disrupted by the collapse of the firm but that alternative arrangements had been made.
An SBS contract agreement document about the framework, which runs from November 2016 to October 2018, reported ‘25% savings’ on the previous agreement.
The Unite union has called on the government to investigate how interpretation contracts are awarded after the firm’s collapse. It said a ‘race to the bottom’ in public sector outsourcing was adversely affecting people who rely on interpreting services.
Unite regional officer Andy Murray said: 'What we have here is an example of a company, Pearl Linguistics that has gone into liquidation because, it appears, it was unable to operate in a contract culture even when underpinned by depressed wages.
‘The cost-cutting across the sector is driving highly competent interpreters away from the profession as they can’t afford to live on the wages on offer.
‘The people that are going to suffer are those needing assistance when going to NHS appointments and those appearing in court.’
An NHS SBS spokesman said: ‘Pearl Linguistics was one of 14 suppliers listed on the NHS SBS Interpretation & Translation Services framework. After being made aware of the company’s impending liquidation, we immediately notified all those who use this framework and worked with other suppliers to ensure interim arrangements, such as telephone interpretation, are in place to minimise any short term disruption to GP and other primary care services.
'A full assessment has now shown there is sufficient capacity within the current framework to meet future requirements and ensure the NHS continues to get best value for money, whilst being legally compliant and able to provide the highest possible standards of interpretation and translation for patients. We have also been helping organisations that relied on non-NHS SBS frameworks, including one on which Pearl Linguistics was the only provider, to quickly access new compliant suppliers.'
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘We were alerted to Pearl Linguistics' liquidation the day before and immediately took steps to make alternative arrangements to cover its interpreting services by other providers. A minimal number of pre-booked appointments were affected.’
Pearl Linguistics did not respond to a request for comment.
Practices or primary care services with concerns about the service are advised to contact NHS SBS contract enquiries team at NSBS.email@example.com or on 0161 212 3940.