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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Press Release Revealed: the shocking cost of translation in the NHS

Over £20million spent on translation services last year and the cost to the taxpayer is rising

Research carried out by the think-tank, 2020Health, has revealed a dramatic increase in the amount spent by NHS Trusts on translation and interpretation services.

Figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that NHS Trusts spent a total of £23.3 million on translation last year. The amount spent on translation has risen by 17 per cent since 2007, with nearly £65 million spent in the last three financial years.  

Julia Manning, Chief Executive of 2020Health, said:

"Our research shows that the NHS spends an incredible £60,000 every single day on translation services. That is over £20,000,000 a year.

“The most glaring problem is that NHS Trusts translate their own material, rather than have access to a central pool of translated documents. The costs involved are truly staggering in an age of austerity, and incredible when taken in the context of the 'Nicholson Challenge' of saving £20bn across the Health Service.
“Urgent action must be taken by Trusts to stem the flow of translation costs and our report sets out a number of recommendations that would do exactly that without altering the level of care given.”

Cost-saving solutions include:

Creating a central repository of information that has already been translated would remove much of the need for Trusts to translate their own materials.

Even better, simply having documents in “easy to read” English would offer the best service to patients struggling to learn the language.

Ms Manning said:

“The NHS has been told by its own patient feedback that documents in simple English - instead of medical jargon - would be acceptable to most people currently using the translation services. It wouldn't take much effort to drastically cut the £23million of taxpayers’ money that is spent each year on bureaucratic and often duplicated translation fees, and free the money up for treating patients.”

The report also throws a spotlight on the deeper issues in society, including integration and the meaning of citizenship.  It questions whether catering to non-native English speakers actually serves them in good stead, or whether it perpetuates a system in which they are ostracized from the majority English-speaking public.

Zia Haider Rahman, a Bangladeshi human rights lawyer in Tower Hamlets in the East End of London, says the provision of translation and interpretation is actually damaging to his community.                                                                                                                  

"They are doing harm because they are reinforcing the language barrier which separates this community from the rest of Britain. They are de-incentivising Bangladeshis from learning English,” says Mr. Rahman.

The report notes that whilst the cost of translating documents has fallen, there has been a rise in the cost of interpretation services within the NHS. Not all Trusts surveyed were able to provide details of how much such services cost them.

Commenting on the research, Emma Boon, Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

“Taxpayers will be shocked that so much is being spent on translation and interpretation in the NHS. They expect their money to be going towards treatment for sick people, not on language services. It is even more worrying that some trusts cannot provide a breakdown of what this is costing them; this shows a worrying lack of control over finances.  

“There will always be a need for some interpretation, for example if people visiting the UK get sick and need emergency treatment. But those who live in Britain should make an effort to learn to speak English so that they are not burdening services like the NHS with on-going costs for translation.”