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

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Mail Online NHS spends £23m a year on translators: Costs rise as hospitals cater for 120 languages

The NHS spends £64,000 a day on translation services, a report reveals today.The cost to the taxpayer has risen by 17 per cent since 2007, with more than £23million spent last year.
Experts said huge sums could be saved if hospitals and GP surgeries pooled resources – and warned that translating information for those who do not speak English could encourage segregation.

Following freedom of information requests to every NHS trust, the report states that the Health Service spent £23.3million on written translation and interpreters last year. Some trusts translated material into 120 languages.

Julia Manning, of 2020Health, the think-tank that conducted the research, said: ‘The costs involved are truly staggering in an age of austerity, and incredible when taken in the context of efficiency savings of £20billion 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.’
These include establishing a central library of information that has already been translated, which could be used by trusts across the country. The report also highlights trusts which do not provide any translation services, and instead produce documents in ‘easy to read’ English suitable for patients learning the language.

With the NHS spending £64,000 each day on translation, 2020Health says things need to be changed. One suggestion would be to have a library where the words have already been translated. A spokesman for Calderdale Primary Care Trust in Halifax said it did not ‘routinely translate anything’, adding: ‘Research among patient groups told us that they actually prefer the easy-read version, rather than a translated brochure.’ Miss Manning continued: ‘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 . . . and free the money up for treating patients.’ The report reveals that trusts across Birmingham spent £4.9million on translation and interpreters during the past three years. Other big spenders include Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which spent £3.7million in the past three years; Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which spent £2.4million; and London-based Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which spent £2million.

Emma Boon, 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. ‘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 ongoing costs for translation.’

The report also examines the effects of using translators on society. It questions whether catering to those who do not speak the language is helpful, or instead ostracises them from the English-speaking majority. 

Many public bodies provide translations, but their legal obligation is far from clear. The Human Rights Act only requires translations if someone is arrested or charged with a criminal offence – but the Race Relations Act says that all parts of the community should have access to services.  It emerged last year that the Ministry of Justice spent more than £100million in six years on translation. The Ministry is now cutting its budget by £2billion. By the next general election, it plans to have closed almost 150 courts. In August, it was reported that the police had spent £82million on translators in three years.