The NHS spends £60,000 a day on translation and interpretation services, according to a report.
Research by think-tank 2020Health showed NHS trusts spent £23.3 million on written translation and interpreters last year, an increase of 17% since 2007.
The organisation, which obtained the figures through Freedom of Information requests, claimed 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 2020Health, said: “Our research shows that the NHS spends 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.”
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.”
The report 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.
According to the report, the cost of translating documents has fallen but there has been a rise in the cost of interpretation services within the NHS.
Not all trusts could provide details of how much such services cost them, the think-tank said.
The report also questions whether catering to non-native English speakers is helpful or “perpetuates a system in which they are ostracised from the majority of the English-speaking public”, 2020Health said.
Emma Boon, campaign director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will be shocked that so much is being spent on translation and interpretation in the NHS.
“They expect their money to be going towards treatment for sick people, not on language services.
“It is even more worrying that some trusts cannot provide a breakdown of what this is costing them; this shows a worrying lack of control over finances.
“There will always be a need for some interpretation, for example if people visiting the UK get sick and need emergency treatment.
“But those who live in Britain should make an effort to learn to speak English so that they are not burdening services like the NHS with ongoing costs for translation.”
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.”
And they moan about the cost of us demonstrating?