Health service translation costs reach record levels

NHS Lothian spent a record amount on translation and interpretation services last year, new figures have shown.

Tuesday, 26th September 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 11:12 am
The cost of translation and interpretation has risen

The health board spent more than £1.4 million in 2016 to assist patients with poor English.

The figure is a £100,000 rise on the amount spent in 2015.

Costs include translating documents, such as information leaflets, as well as face-to-face interpretations, with translators earning up to £27.96 an hour, according to a report made available by freedom of information legislation.

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Over 37 per cent of interpretations were carried out in Polish.

Arabic, Cantonese and Mandarin were also among the most popular languages requested.

Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said the authority were having to cater for an “increasingly diverse” population across the region.

She added: “NHS Lothian provides healthcare to a diverse and increasing population of people living in Lothian. We have a duty to ensure that each patient understands exactly what is happening during every step of their care.

“A rise in costs is a reflection of the increasing size of the population, and our commitment to improving quality to continue to meet the needs of patients.”

Around five per cent of patients required British Sign Language interpreters, while Romanian, Bengali and Spanish translators accounted for around ten per cent of interpretations.

NHS Lothian offers patient information in more than 20 languages, however online translation is handled by Google Translate software, with the website noting: “The translated text is not of the same quality as if it had been translated by a human translator. This means that there is a difference in quality of translation between the languages.”

The cost has risen year-on-year since 2012, when spending on translation services was just £624,000 - less than half the current total.

However, it leapt up to £846,000 in 2013, before breaking the million-pound mark in 2014 at £1.2m.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “There will always be a need for interpreters in Scotland’s NHS, and it’s right that those who need the service receive it.

“However, people will be surprised at the scale of the expenditure in NHS Lothian.

“Any increase in translation costs has to be justified, and we need to ensure the service provided is actually what the patients involved want and need.”