The number of patients needing a translator present at a medical consultation has soared in recent years. The Express newspaper earlier this year reported “Ridiculous NHS spends £100 million on translation services for 128 languages over a five year period”. Our members feel these are Funds that could be used on vital services elsewhere.
The use of the NHS by those who travel to the country specifically to receive free treatment is estimated to cost between £110 million and £280 million a year. We as an Association have written to the Government over this issue in the past, under the heading ‘Health Tourism’, and in this case looking at the cost of translators, the issue of both are closely aligned. Mike Hookham UKIP MEP is quoted as saying “the cost of these services are especially ridiculous when we are giving away £12 billion a year on foreign aid, much of which could be re-directed in the NHS”.
In certain areas of the country there are patients who cannot or may not show willingness to learn English even if they have lived in the country for a long time. One practice in the heart of Lancashire has estimated that close to three quarters of people live in a household in which English is not the first language, and of these around a quarter, mostly older Asian women, do not speak any English. Therefore they often bring children as young as seven to translate for them.
We understand that NHS policy actually states that no relative should be used for translation, and that every patient needing help must be provided with it, with the use of either an interpreter, or a translation telephone line. We also from our research understand that the telephone translation helpline in place, is very expensive, and can make consultations extremely long winded as every exchange has to be repeated, therefore taking twice as long eating up valuable time and resources.
In some cases, where a non-English speaking patient requires an interpreter for a hospital appointment, an interpreter is then of course booked, but sometimes does not even turn up. One of our Vice Chairman has experienced this first hand, as she works for the NHS in an audiology department. The appointment then has to be cancelled and rearranged, and of course this can also occur the other way around, where the interpreter arrives but the patient does not, meaning more time and money wasted.
A number of independent commercial companies are currently providing interpreters to the NHS, and are making a great deal of money. One company in Liverpool we found is charging £90 an hour for translation services. (As of 2017)
An independent company based in Coventry, called D&M consultants is launching an on line system which it claims could save the NHS significant sums of money on translation fees. They are launching a software programme called ‘Claire talks’, which they claim will be available for translation purposes and will be able to save the NHS both time and money.
Whatever options there are must be explored, this situation is costing millions to a struggling NHS, with budget cuts and services already very stretched, and we believe this is an issue that requires attention urgently.
Reply from: Holly Casson, Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries
Thank you for your letter to Jeremy Hunt about translation and interpretation services in the NHS, I have been asked to reply.
The NHS serves one of the world’s most diverse countries. Access to NHS services is based on a patient’s clinical need and not on their ethnicity. It is important that NHS staff can communicate effectively with people from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as disabled people who use other means of communication.
Anyone who needs help to communicate with healthcare staff is entitled to receive it. Legislation is in place, including the Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act 1998, and supporting guidance says that organisations should provide such support so that all patients can communicate effectively with doctors and other healthcare staff.
It is the responsibility of the local NHS trust to employ the services of an interpreter with the necessary knowledge and understanding.
I hope this reply is helpful.