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Cost of Interpreters

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2016

9. What the cost to the public purse was in 2015-16 of providing interpreters for people using the NHS who did not speak English. (905661)

Until now, data on NHS foreign language translation and interpretation have not been gathered centrally, but I am delighted to say that, as a result of the representations of my hon. Friend and other colleagues, we have changed that, and NHS England is now conducting a major piece of work looking at both commissioning and provider organisations’ expenditure as part of a procurement review. It is worth saying that in view of the importance of effective communication in good diagnosis, informed consent, safeguarding and public health, it is in all our interests that all our patients understand what the doctors and clinicians are saying to them.

I am grateful for that answer, but may I respectfully suggest to the Minister that if we are to have a serious discussion about the costs and the impacts of large-scale migration into the UK on the NHS, we must have access to figures on this cost and we should not have to wait months and months to get them? The figures must be out there somewhere.

My hon. Friend will find no more passionate champion of good data in the NHS than myself. He makes an important point about getting on with this, and I have already signalled to the team in NHS England that we will need to get a grip on this quickly, not least so that the new Administration implementing the Brexit decision will know the figures and have them to hand.

I made a recent freedom of information request to my local hospitals to find out the cost of interpreters. Airedale hospital reported that last year the cost was almost £200,000 and I suspect that, when I receive an answer, it will be even higher at Bradford royal infirmary. This money could be better spent on patient care. Surely it is better for these patients, if they want to contribute to the British way of life, to be able to speak English themselves. What is the Minister’s Department doing with other Government Departments to make sure that people who live in this country can speak English so that money for the NHS goes to the purposes for which it was intended?

Let me gently and respectfully point out that those who work in the NHS and the leaders responsible for it have made it very clear how dependent it is on people who come to work here in the NHS from overseas. Under the terms of our own mandate and indeed our own laws, the NHS has a duty to make sure that it provides proper diagnosis and treatment for all our citizens. For public health and safety, it is in nobody’s interests for citizens of the UK not to be able to integrate, deal with and get proper diagnosis from the system. My hon. Friend’s wider points about the speaking of English are well made, but they are not relevant to this particular question.