£364,000 bill for health board translators revealed

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Translators have cost NHS Tayside more than £364,000 in the past year.

Statistics obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows the total number of requests for interpreters from November 2017 to April 30 this year was 18,175.

Prior to October 2017 interpreters were provided to the health board by an outside agency.

Since then it has opted to employ its own interpreters in the three most commonly requested languages – British Sign Language, Polish, and Arabic.

Agency interpreters were requested for a range of languages, including Romanian, Bengali, Russian, Cantonese, Urdu, Bulgarian and Mandarin.

The health board brought the service in-house after it was revealed that the costs for agency interpreters were rising year-on-year – from £177,315 in 2012/13 to £623,661 in 2016/17.

In the 12 months to April this year the cost was £364,690.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser has urged the health board to further reduce costs after he discovered that NHS Tayside had only spent £58,439 in the six months after bringing the service in-house.

He said: “While I appreciate translators are needed in certain situations, the cost of employing interpreters through this agency service is substantial.

“Having to pay out a sum of £364,690.87 as agency costs of using interpreters during the 2018/19 is staggering. I’d like to know how NHS Tayside plan to reduce the costs of using translators in a period where they have faced many other cost-cutting measures.

“These figures could not have come at a worse time for NHS Tayside. In November last year, a report suggested they would have to shed around 1,300 posts through ‘natural staff turnover’ – such was the state of their financial problems.”

However, Santosh Chima, diversity and inclusion manager at NHS Tayside, said spending money on translators helps prevent them losing money in other ways, such as through cancelled appointments.

She said: “Following a six-month options appraisal process, the Interpretation and Translation Service was brought in house on November 1 2017 and is now being delivered under a new service model, which is delivering an improved service and will lead to financial savings in the longer term.

“NHS Tayside has a core of employed interpreters who focus on the provision of face-to-face interpreting for the three top languages – British Sign Language, Polish, and Arabic.

“Other spoken languages are provided through a contract with an agency which has been procured through the Scottish Government Interpreting, Translation and Transcription Services Framework Agreement.

“The new model has been very successful with the service providing interpreters to 99% of interpreting requests. This has had a direct impact on the number of patients who are able to attend appointments, which has reduced the number of cancellations. This has a direct impact on improving health outcomes, reducing health inequalities and also saving resources from unnecessary cancellations.”