Taxpayers billed £100m for NHS translators – could pay for 3,000 nurses

The £100million annual cost of ensuring NHS services can be fully accessed in languages other than English could pay for 3,000 more nurses, figures show.
Taxpayers pick up the bill for translation and interpretation for hundreds of thousands of patients as NHS trusts and Integrated Care Boards routinely convert standard hospital and health literature into languages including Romanian, Arabic, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi.
Former NHS cancer consultant Karol Sikora said: “With funds so tight…the priority must always be patient care. Translation and interpretation costs, however noble, are not a necessity. In an ideal world, we could provide that. But with constricted budgets and constricted resources, frontline support must always come first.”
Prof Sikora, right, added: “The NHS has to get back to basics. Providing timely and efficient care.
“Fund frontline staff over translation/interpretation teams. Use Google Translate.”
An NHS spokesman said: “As well as legal duties, translation and interpretation services are vital for patient safety and it is absolutely right the NHS in England offers these.”
Using Freedom of Information laws, 251 NHS trusts and 42 ICBs were asked the cost for translation and interpretation services in 2021/22 and 2022/23.
Trusts spent £44,885,265 and ICBs £14,762,608 last year – big increases on the £41,527,118 and £13,063,721 12 months earlier. If reflected across all trusts and ICBs, the bill would be £102,612,830.
Birmingham Community Healthcare spent £64,775 translating into Bengali, £54,402 on Romanian and £53,405 for its Punjabi services.
North Central London ICB’s Arabic work cost it £59,458 while similar tasks cost Gateshead Health Foundation Trust £24,964; Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust paid out £20,521.
Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spent £14,553 on Urdu services, and translating into Romanian cost Cambridgeshire and Peterborough ICB £9,988.
Rupert Lowe, business spokesman for Reform UK, said: “Translation services in an NHS facility are simply not necessary, particularly with the advancements of AI-powered translation which is available on every single smartphone. If people are using our health service, already with no cost, then they can certainly fund the translation or provide a family member who can do so.
“This is a significant cost, which should be diverted to frontline staff or back to taxpayers. It is the National Health Service, not the international health service.
“We are being taken advantage of – if you are receiving treatment in an English hospital, then English is the language that must be expected.”
The average spend on translation and interpretation at 132 trusts that replied was £314,599 in 2021/22 rising by 8% to £340,039 a year later.
Average ICB spend was £326,962 in 2021/22 increasing by 13% to £410,801.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: “With the NHS struggling to keep up with demand for services, it’s crucial as much money as possible is freed up to deal with the ongoing backlog.
“Health bosses should look to cut costs by making more use of ready-translated material and pooling resources.”
In January, 44% of patients waited more than two months for cancer treatment after an urgent referral from a GP – the second worst result on record.
In February, 29% of people at A&E spent more than four hours from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge.
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