NHS spent £66 million on translation and interpreting services in 2019/2020, new study from Inbox Translation finds

Freedom of information requests sent to all 244 NHS Trusts revealed that the spending on translation and interpreting services increased on average by 6% year on year.

NHS Trusts and Health Boards in the UK spent £65,962,418 in 2019/2020 on translation and interpreting services (including BSL – British Sign Language – and Welsh), an increase of approximately £3.5 million compared to 2018/2019 according to a new study by Inbox Translation.

The study has revealed that over a period of five years there was an average increase of 6% year on year in the spending on such services.


The research was conducted between December 2020 and May 2022, and it was based on freedom of information requests sent to all 244 NHS Trusts and Health Boards in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The report investigated how much these organisations spent on translation and interpreting services (including BSL, braille, and Welsh) between 2015/2016 and 2019/2020.


Increase in spending
While translation and interpreting for foreign languages saw an increase of just under 0.5% in 2019/2020 compared to the previous year, BSL increased by more than 20%, which showed this is in fact the main driver.

This was explained by the NHS organisations enquired as having three reasons:
• more patients seen every year
• moving away from using friends and family for interpreting and starting using professional interpreters
• national BSL plans implemented

Spending by country in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020
2018/2019: £7,744,814
2019/2020: £7,416,538

2018/2019: £2,119,280
2019/2020: £2,421,845

2018/2019: £47,602,752
2019/2020: £51,097,091
Note: data split per England region available in Section 5.1. of the report

Northern Ireland
2018/2019: £4,942,647
2019/2020: £5,026,944

UK Total
2018/2019: £62,409,493
2019/2020: £65,962,418

Top spenders (UK-wide)
The top three spenders in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 were:
1) NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
2) Southern Health and Social Care Trust
3) Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust

Translation and interpreting were offered in 120 languages.

Ambulance spending
Ambulance services have nil or negligible costs with written translations, BSL, or braille.

Employment of translators and interpreters
The Health Boards in Wales are the only organisations that routinely employ translators and interpreters, while Trusts elsewhere in the UK outsource these services. For Welsh Health Boards, most of the spending in this area is for the Welsh language.

Alina Cincan, Managing Director of Inbox Translation commented:
To put this spending into perspective, the amount reported in 2019/2020 relative to the UK population is the equivalent of a contribution of just under £1 per person per year. In healthcare, errors in communication put people’s lives at risk, so we cannot afford to look at these figures only from a spending point of view, but we need to consider what’s at stake.

More data and full study results: https://inboxtranslation.com/resources/research/nhs-spending-translation-interpreting-services/  

MultiLingual Staff
MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.


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