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UK NHS Spending – £60,000 a Day on Translation Services

A new report shows that the NHS pays out £60,000 a day on translation and interpretation services, with Leeds among the highest spenders. Research by think-tank 2020 Health showed UK NHS spending of £23.3 million on written translation and interpreters last year, an increase of 17% since 2007.

The organization obtained the figures through Freedom of Information requests also said money could be saved by creating a central pool of pre-translated materials which all hospitals and GP surgeries could access.

Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020 Health, said, “Our research shows that the UK NHS spending has reached 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 £20 billion 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.”

The report collected data from 247 NHS trusts. It said most translated from English into between five and 25 different languages. However, it said some translated into as many as 120. The report also revealed that trusts across Birmingham spent £4.9 million between 2008/09 and 2010/11 on translation services, the highest spend outside London. Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £3.7 million over the same period. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust spent £2.4 million, while Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust was the biggest spender in London, with £2 million. London trusts comprised 15% of the trusts surveyed, but were responsible for 31% of the total spend, the research showed.

As well as a central library of information, the think-tank recommended translating materials into simple English rather than other languages. It also suggested providing more written translations through free web-based services, such as Google Translate.

Ms Manning went on, “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 £23 million of taxpayers’ money that is spent each year on bureaucratic and often duplicated translation fees, and free the money up for treating patients.

A Department of Health spokesman said, “NHS trusts have a duty to follow equalities legislation. This includes making sure their communities can understand information about the trust’s services and that patients and clinicians can communicate with each other. However, we would encourage trusts to save money where possible by working together and sharing resources.

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