DEAF people in Hartlepool are angry after a sign language service was awarded a contract by NHS bosses against their wishes.
Leaders at Hartlepool Deaf Centre say users are unhappy at the three-year contract being awarded to Stockton-based Everyday Language Solutions (ELS).
The contract covers assistance provided to deaf people when they attend GP, dentist, optician and pharmacist appointments.
Deaf workers claim patients have been unhappy with ELS over some of the services provided.
But ELS strongly deny the claims and say all interpreters are trained to the highest industry standards.
And they stressed there have been no complaints in the last three years of providing the service for the primary care trust.
Anita Duffy, chairwoman at Hartlepool Deaf Centre, in Greatham Street, said: “The deaf community was very happy with the service they had prior to ELS being awarded the contract.
“This service was run by a deaf person who fully understood the needs of the deaf community.”
There are around 60 registered deaf people in Hartlepool.
Over the last year ELS was booked to provide British sign language interpreters for 127 appointments for the whole NHS Tees area.
Wendy Lillie, ELS director, said: “Firstly I must completely and utterly refute every allegation.
“ELS has been a leading provider of language services in the North-East for over 14 years.
“All members of our team are trained to the highest industry standard and beyond.
“In the last three years of working with the Primary Care Trust (PCT) we have not had a single complaint formally registered with us.
“We would treat any such event with the utmost seriousness, thoroughly investigate any such allegation and rigorously check our procedures.
“But, I repeat, none has been made.
“Despite that unblemished record we have looked to further enhance our booking processes to reassure patients that they can request specific interpreters and receive text or email confirmation of the name of their interpreter.
“We would point out that the contract under which ELS provides its services is for Primary Care Services provided by doctors, dentists and opticians and does not involve hospital and/or operations.
“ELS is fully committed to providing the best possible language services to the users of the PCT services in Hartlepool and the wider Tees Valley.
“ELS wishes to reassure them that we will continue to maintain the highest possible professional standards on their behalf.”
NHS Hartlepool awarded ELS the contract after a procurement process last October.
The care trust said the process was “very thorough” and feedback from patients, patient representatives and stakeholders were taken on board.
A spokesman said: “Specifically as a result of user feedback, the qualification requirements for interpreters were enhanced and the ability for patients to request a male or female interpreter, or a specifically named interpreter, have been reinforced.
“Also the importance of confidentiality has been reiterated and the monitoring of patient experience included as a key requirement of the contract.
“Everyday Language Solutions (ELS) were awarded the new contract through the stringent procurement process and there have been no performance issues with ELS as a provider of the service over the past three years.”