NHS service providers have an obligation to ensure interpreting and translation services are provided to their patients free at the point of delivery. This can be provided face-to-face, over the phone or via other means like video conference. However, this can lead to exorbitant costs as a large range of languages – including some of the rarest still spoken – require translation in order for care or information to be provided. This all comes at taxpayers’ expense during a time of record NHS waiting lists.
This paper shows the amount spent by NHS trusts in the last three financial years on interpreters and translation services (interpreters), the languages requiring translation and the highest spending trusts.
- NHS trusts spent at least £113,974,561 on interpreters during 2019-20 to 2021-22, an average of £725,953 per NHS trust that replied.
£43,095,493 was spent on interpreters in 2019-20, the single largest year. This fell by 28 per cent to £31,050,708 in 2020-21 before rising by 28 per cent to £39,828,361 in 2021-22.
- The NHS trust which spent the most on interpreters in the UK was NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde with costs totalling £8,853,676 during 2019-20 to 2021-22.
Barts Health NHS Trust was the English trust with the highest spending on interpreters at £5,533,389. More than £1.9 million of this was spent in 2021-22 alone.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board had the highest spending among Welsh NHS trusts at £2,036,179.
The most commonly provided translation services by NHS trusts were into Polish (116), Romanian (116), Chinese (113) and Arabic (112).
- If all NHS trusts had responded, the total spending on interpreters and translation services by the NHS in 2019-20 to 2021-22 is estimated to be £174,228,629. This is over £60.3 million higher than the total of the responses we have reported on.
 Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Language interpreting and translation: migrant health guide, 22 March 2021, www.gov.uk/guidance/language-interpretation-migrant-health-guide#:~:text=by%20the%20patient.-,Requesting%20an%20interpreter,their%20service's%20interpreter%20booking%20processes, (accessed 29 September 2022).