Outsourced interpreting service cost Harrogate Hospital almost £150,000 in three years

7 June 2013

Hospital WardA North Yorkshire NHS Trust which last year was looking to make £7million in savings has spent  almost £150,000 on interpreters.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that over the last three years, Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust has spent a total of £144,719 on an outsourced interpreting service.

  • 2010/2011 it spent £34,516
  • 2011/2012 it spent £58,574
  • 2012/13 it spent £51,629

North Yorkshire County Councillor David Simister (Ukip, Bilton NiddGorge), who sits on the authority’s scrutiny of health committee, said the findings would come as a huge shock for many in the town.

Councillor Simister said:

Whilst Harrogate & District NHS Trust is having to make cutbacks due to a shortfall in Government funding, it is being forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds each year on interpreters.

This money should come directly from the European Parliament, not from the individual Trusts who are struggling to make ends meet.


A spokesperson for Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust said:

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust cares for a population of over 899,000 people across North Yorkshire and York and North East Leeds by providing essential hospital and a wide range of community health services.

The Trust is committed to ensuring that all service users have equal access to its services irrespective of barriers that may be in place due to language or physical impairments. Interpreting and translation services are therefore essential in providing high quality patient care to these people.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005, and Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, requires equal access to services and information for all users. The Trust therefore has to ensure that all patients understand their consultations and can give informed consent for any treatments required. For Deaf patients this may mean access to a registered/appropriate sign language interpreter and for those whose first language is not English may mean access to an appropriate language interpreter.

The Trust encourages the self-supply of interpreters wherever possible, using friends/relatives when it is appropriate to do so provided that both the clinician and the patient are satisfied with this arrangement.

There are issues with providing an internal bank of staff rather than using externally sourced interpreters and a few of these include the availability for release of staff from their existing roles within the Trust, employing staff trained to an acceptable standard in all requested languages/formats and the geographical area that the Trust covers.

The Trust is always looking to explore innovative and cost effective ways in which to provide services and we can now book interpreting and translation services on-line which is more convenient, but the requirement for this service is demand-led and providing high quality safe care to all of our patients is the Trust’s top priority.



  1. So we are paying £1,000 per week to fund translation at the Hospital!

    I was under the impression that to qualify for British citizenship one had to pass a basic English oral test. Assuming that patients are legally here then why do they need translators?.

    Or could it be that some staff have a poor command of English and need help in understanding English spoken by patients?
    If you cannot speak basic English and do not intend to do so, then I suggest you seek treatment in your home country.
    It seems the Race Relations Act might be well-intentioned, but is it fair that English speakers have to fund it for the benefit of those who have no intention of becoming conversationally fluent?
    The provision of Sign Language services is of course all well and good and vitally necessary, but what happens if the need arises to provide Sign Language services in Tagalog, Sursilvan or Puter?? Hmm!

  2. RE: the above comment

    The translation costs are for patients only. The hospital does not hire translation services for staff.

    These costs are a considerable drain on the Trust’s already strapped funds. But then, if a patient cannot speak English, then are we to simply turn them away, despite their need for care?

    Luckily, when unwell abroad, through the art of mime, I was able to get the treatment I needed, but in cases of serious injuries/illness, this is not always possible. Equally important is the translation of the instructions to the patient.

    I can understand the Trust’s need to hire translators, but yet it does seem unfair that the funds must come from the Trust’s coffers.

  3. If the European Socialists want to ensure that all manner of non-English speakers end up in the UK, partly due to our supine Governments attitude to immigration, and partly due to the liberal distribution of benefits by Whitehall to anyone who washes up on our shores, then perhaps they should consider the longer game and allow funding so that ALL non-English speakers do not have to bother with learning our language and instead fully fund the provision of translation services.
    The EEC is just another Socialist State which specialises in spending other peoples money–until it runs out!
    I trust our local and national taxes will rise sufficiently this year to cover the need for Romanian, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croat translators after the influx starting next January.
    Doubtless a few heart procedures will have to be further delayed with all the possible consequences for indigenous tax payers in Harrogate, so that funds are held back to pay for translators to be available for
    work when another illegal pregnant immigrant from some backward bankrupt state in the former USSR, rings for an ambulance in the District.
    Sometimes one just weeps at the stupidity of those empty suits in charge!! Have they never run a business based on a budget–as I and many others have??

  4. I am a public service interpreter, except I work(ed) in the area of law before the Ministry of Justice outsourced. I am stating this so nobody reading this comment is under illusions as to where I stand.

    This is yet another article where you’d think the shock and horror was about the fact that outsourcing is a proven failure in many areas of public service, with private providers incentivised to push costs – and therefore standards – down as far as they can … but it’s actually the idea that these nasty foreigners are coming here and using our services and costing us a bomb, blah blah blah etc etc etc – serving as a dog whistle to any reader who wants to reinforce their prejudices.

    Let me tell you how it really works. People come to the UK, regardless of whether it is legitimate or not, and sometimes like any human being, they become ill or they already are unwell in some way. Some of them, no doubt, may well be (1) on the path to learning English (2) not here for long enough to pick it up or (3) already speak it well but a hospital or surgery may not want the risk of someone being half-understood and an incorrect diagnosis or course of action being prescribed. Think of the risks.

    You cannot insure or legislate for some of the people coming here or living here getting ill. It is counter-productive to assume that not providing interpreters will save money.

    Interpreters are also provided because if someone is assumed to speak enough English and turns out not to, then appointments would need to be re-booked. A re-booked appointment, considering the ‘person-hours’ of the doctor(s)/nurse(s) etc involved no doubt costs more than paying properly for an interpreter.

    In the area of health, there are few exceptions where interpreters are deployed directly by those who use them, either the surgery/hospital having its own system or simply having the autonomy to call interpreters directly.

    Even in those situations, the pay on offer is ludicrously low. I would not want the risk or liability of that level of responsibility for that little money and the skill of interpreting is as demanding in a health situation as it is in court or Police situation.

    However, another factor to consider. Some of the worst private sector agencies are given formal contracts by PCTs and other subdivisions of the NHS. I know of one such company in the north of England that had deals with local hospitals. Here’s an example, as follows.

    I was once sent to a solicitor’s office to interpret in Portuguese local to me (Greater Manchester) and I insisted the agency that called me paid me the proper rate for the job. I usually refuse agency work for public service but this was private in essence, with a solicitor. Normally they pay a pittance but they really needed a proper interpreter.

    I arrived and was asked to speak some Portuguese to the person whose conference it was. I did so. They seemed relieved. The reason, it transpired, was that the previous week they had used a well-known local agency that I knew had loads of work from various branches of the non-legal public sector (health, local government, social security etc) … and they had supplied a Spanish speaker to this Portuguese assignment.

    This is one example that I can reveal but can you imagine how many times agencies send the wrong language and they just plod on so as not to cancel an appointment? Not all agencies are like this but the involvement of the private sector and PROFIT in something like this, to me is a huge risk, a very unhealthy thing, and yet when these stories come out, it is always couched in terms of how absurd it is that certain sums are being spent.

    You have to ask yourself: when a company is asked to send an interpreter and they don’t have one in the correct language, do they choose not to make the money and to admit they don’t have the right person for the right language at the time of asking, or do they simply send someone they think they’ll get away with and pocket the cash?

    The scandal is (1) the seemingly unmonitored involvement of agencies who are allowed to deliver any old rubbish and still get the business, (2) the fact that interpreting services are not viewed by the public as an essential element in keeping the wheels oiled and avoiding greater expense overall and (3) that there seems to be little or no expectation that those being paid to interpret are not expected to be vetted and qualified when we are accustomed to assuming that doctors, teachers, police, solicitors and architects are fully qualified.

    But obviously it’s miles easier for newspapers to tap into latent xenophobia by droning on about cost of interpreting services while ignoring their benefits and what they save in human and financial cost long-term rather than making the effort to go more in depth for the really far more threatening and insidious trend in British public service life: the outsourcing of most of the country and the absurdly low quality it almost always ends up resulting in.

  5. It is my opinion that if any visitor to any country gets into difficulties and requires help – then it is the responsibility of that person’s EMBASSY (and its staff) to assist ‘their own citizens’.

    That applies to UK citizens elsewhere just as it should to foreign visitors to this country. The relevent Embassies are established to represent the interests of those countries and their people abroad.

    Foreigners ‘in trouble with the police’ should be (as they always used to be) simply incarcerated until a representative from their Embassy comes to their assistance.

    Of COURSE anyone – including “Foreigners” – requiring urgent medical assistance – which is Life Saving First Aid and Emergency Life-Saving Surgery – MUST be treated and helped out – but (as specifically regards non-Nationals) that does NOT include anything for which an appointment can be made !! By definition that is not ‘urgent life saving treatment’ and can be deferred; it should be deferred until the person concerned can obtain the treatment in their own country under their own Health Care System – or they obtain their treatment from a 3rd party suppplier for which they pay.

    If the person is unable to travel – or obtain treatment from a 3rd party supplier – then it is ONLY the responsibility of the State-Funded British Medical Services to stabilise their conditon and keep them alive until such stage as their EMBASSY can make arrangements for further treatment or their repatriation.

    The National Health Service is STATE-FUNDED to provide a Health Service to British Nationals – and NHS Employees are PAID to do THAT & that alone.

    If NHS EMPLOYEES CHOOSE to treat “non-Britons” – or to provide “Non-Britons” with ANY other services – without requiring full financial recompense for the (real or notional) expenditure, then those EMPLOYEES are Misappropriating (as in stealing) Public Money.

    Public EMPLOYEES are just that – EMPLOYEES of the STATE; they do NOT have any rights to divert their Employer’s money, time or resources into other activities of their own choosing any more than an Architect has a right “to do Private work” at the Office nor a Bank Teller any right to give his employers money to a charity of his own choosing.

    It is THEFT – and should be viewed and treated as such.

  6. I applaud that last posting.

    Britons who fall victim to accident or sudden illness abroad can get help under EHIC–if in the EU and Switzerland–or in local hospitals overseas. If they do not speak the lingo then its their problem–or their embassies problem–or their travel insurers problem–as I discovered deep in Central China 3 years ago when I was run over by a lorry that did not stop. I did not expect China to pay for an English Translator for me–why would I, for goodness sake??

    Its not a case of xenophobia, as suggested, if I question the liberal distribution of UK tax payers funds to provide translation services to foreigners.
    What I am questioning is the willy-nilly dishing out of funds for such services–to the detriment of care for the population who funded it–when the recipients of such munificence just sit there and expect it to happen.
    Because its Britain.
    Because they feel they are owed it.
    Because , in the main, they have made no provision for their own welfare by way of ready funds in hand, or insurance to cover such possible expense.

    They are in fact begging us to fund their own lack of planning, funds, or foresight.
    They would not do that in France. There you get necessary emergency care, then repatriation. Full stop.
    Same in the Irish Republic. I know for a fact–for I have seen it–when a stabilised accident victim was put on a direct flight from Dublin to Abu Dhabi on a stretcher–fare funded by Irish State 50/50 with the Abu Dhabi National Carrier of the scheduled flight, Etihad Airways. I spoke to the Doctor who accompanied the patient to the plane and he told me it was cheaper for Ireland to fund 50% of the fare back to the patients home country than to fund their stay of indeterminate length in Ireland. Tellingly he added ” We are not the UK. We do not offer free endless medical aid, translators, convalescence etc. We fix you up so you can fly back to your country of origin for that. That is humane in our book. Anything more is ludicrous and wilful wasting of funds, which would never be repaid.”

    Maybe we can learn from that Irish Trauma Doctor….perhaps?

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