Sweden Wants One Supplier for All Stockholm in USD 72m Interpreting Contract

Desy Papper

Sweden has started the search for one vendor to deliver interpretation services to the entire Stockholm Region. Contract price is estimated at EUR 59m (SEK 600m) for four years and will cover on-site, remote, and on-demand interpretation; the latter includes interpreting services for the Swedish healthcare helpline (1177). Deadline for […]

Sweden has started the search for one vendor to deliver interpretation services to the entire Stockholm Region. Contract price is estimated at EUR 59m (SEK 600m) for four years and will cover on-site, remote, and on-demand interpretation; the latter includes interpreting services for the Swedish healthcare helpline (1177). Deadline for submission of tenders is May 21, 2021, before midnight.

Assuming a supplier is chosen by December 1, 2021, the contract will run from June 1, 2022 to November 30, 2024 (i.e., the contract will only kick in six months after it is signed) and may be subject to renewal. Maximum duration of the contract is four years.

Proposals must be submitted electronically via the TendSign e-tendering platform and written in Swedish, with exceptions for single-word or -phrase accepted concepts, supporting tech docs, and the like as long as they are in English, Danish, or Norwegian.

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Contracting authority is the Stockholm Region, which administers healthcare for the county’s 2.4 million residents, representing 25% of the Swedish population. Users of interpreting services under the contract include several medical facilities, such as the Stockholm County Hospital, and eight local authorities.

Interpreting services will generally be rendered in a healthcare setting, where the patient does not know enough Swedish to ensure their safety sans an interpreter. A small portion of assignments will have to do with county residents contacting government authorities.

According to tender documents seen by Slator, interpretation in such settings are typically consecutive (i.e., with one person speaking at a time); but there will also be other instances that require a whisper interpreter or conference interpreter.

The comprehensive RFP documents in Swedish — which include a couple of manuals on best practices plus usage statistics from the previous contract, define “four recognized competency levels” for interpreters summarized as follows:

  • Authorized Interpreter – Belongs to the Chamber of Deputies register of authorized interpreters and has undergone an exam supervised by the Swedish Appeals Board.
  • Authorized Interpreter With Approved Specialization (e.g., medical interpreter, legal interpreter) – Must belong to the Chamber of Deputies register of authorized interpreters and have, for example, training specific to a medical setting.
  • Trained Interpreter – Must belong to the Kammarkollegiet (lit. The Chamber College) register of trained interpreters and
    • Has undergone training in Interpreting and Translation at the University of Stockholm;
    • Has had consistent basic training for interpreters in adult education supported by the National Agency for Higher Vocational Education; and
    • Have skills validated by the Authority for Applied Sciences.
  • Other Interpreter – Has undergone at least 27 hours of interpreter training and passed the supplier’s recruitment test.

The chosen supplier should also be able to provide interpreters trained to handle assignments from customers within a range of fields, such as Psychiatry, Children and Adolescents with Mental Illness (BUP), Torture or War Trauma, Forensic Psychiatry, Sexual and Reproductive Health, and so on.

‘Most Effective to Focus on One Supplier’

The RFP documents show that the Stockholm Region has live contracts with three different interpreting providers. In the documents, Stockholm stated, “It is most appropriate to procure a complete solution with one supplier who will be responsible for covering the interpretation needs of the entire Stockholm Region.”

They came to this conclusion based on their experience with the incumbents as well as the experience of several other regions. Stockholm authorities further noted, “It is considered most effective to focus on one supplier relationship” and steer the administration of the contract toward building that partnership.

The tender guidelines describe Stockholm’s desired relationship with their next supplier in great detail, including such points summarized as follows:

  • Collaboration Manager – Appointed by the supplier, this person will serve as the single point of contact with the client; and will continuously develop the Interpreting Service and ensure quality. 
  • Technology & Development Manager – Also appointed by the supplier, this person will manage, streamline, and further develop the Interpreting Service.
  • Tolkportalen – The supplier must ensure that orders will mainly be placed via Stockholm’s proprietary digital solution, Tolkportalen — but that other channels will also be available. (While customers entitled to order directly “constitute a small number, it is a very large number of care units that will practically order an interpreter” via the customers entitled to order directly.)
  • Medical Interpreters – Aside from ensuring that the proportion of remote interpreting should increase, the supplier should also increase competence in delivering interpreting assignments; in particular, by hiring more medical interpreters.
  • Bicycles and Public Transport – The contracting authority “views positively” that Interpreting Services be delivered with minimal environmental impact, “for example, by on-site interpreters using public transport or bicycles” to get to the place of assignment.
  • High Level of Ambition – To take advantage of digitization and other tech advancements, that is. Stockholm, therefore, “requests solutions for interpretation via video calls.”

The latter requirement has to do with the dramatic shift in the delivery of Stockholm’s Interpretation Service in 2020. On-site interpreting was nearly wiped out, plummeting by 80% during the pandemic. However, total volumes remained high, dropping by only 15% from 2019 to 2020 — not surprising as most assignments managed by the Stockholm Region are related to healthcare.

Penalties

According to Stockholm Region authorities, “The quality of the delivery during the contract period shall be increased by reducing the number of missing interpreters, late arrivals, and deviations as well as cases where interpretation assignments have not been filled.”

As such, supplier penalties make up a separate appendix in the RFP documents. Amounts range from EUR 10 (SEK 100) per instance — when an assignment is cancelled 24 hours prior — to EUR 200 if the interpreter does not show up to a meeting or is unavailable by phone or video remote interpretation.

Delivery delays are also penalized EUR 100 per instance if, for example, the interpreter is late by 15 minutes or more.

The contracting authority further requires its chosen supplier to maintain an on-demand service with a “maximum response time of five minutes […] all year round,” counted from the time the call is queued after initial voice response by supplier until the interpreter answers the call.

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