SPENDING on interpreter and translation services by the NHS in Scotland rose by more than 20 per cent in the five years leading up to the pandemic, new research shows.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which serves a population of 1.2 million people, was also the single biggest spender of any health board or trust in the UK.

The analysis was undertaken by Inbox Translation, a London-based medical translation services provider, to evaluate demand for language services in the health service.

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Across the UK, it found that interpreter services on the NHS were being offered in 120 languages in total, as well as sign language and braille.

Between 2015/16 and 2019/20, spending on translation and interpreting by NHS Scotland increased by 21.4 per cent, from £6.1 million to £7.4m.

That compared to an increase of £27.2% for the NHS across the UK as a whole.

HeraldScotland: Source: Inbox TranslationSource: Inbox Translation

Of the total UK spend of £65.9m in 2019/20, an estimated £56m (85%) was for foreign language interpretation, £8.58m was for sign language services, and £1.45m was spent on written translation.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spent £3.6m in 2019/20, although researchers stressed this was "probably not surprising, considering they are one of the UK’s largest providers of NHS health care services".

It is also home to Scotland's most diverse population.

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The Inbox Translation study is the first to assess interpreter services since a 2012 report by the think tank, 2020 Health, recommended that the NHS make use of Google Translate to cut translation costs.

Inbox Translation said this was known to "have high levels of unreliability and inaccuracy".

HeraldScotland: Source: Inbox TranslationSource: Inbox Translation

The report suggests that the increase in spending probably reflects various factors, including an increase in the total numbers of patients being seen as well as a shift away from relying on friends, family members, or volunteers in favour of professional interpreters.

This was "encouraging" and in line with national guidelines following research showing that using relatives "comes with risks of misunderstandings and misdiagnosing", for example if they are embarrassed or reluctant to pass on bad news.

Public Health Scotland also reported that its spend on sign language services had increased from £1,000 in 2015/2016 and 2016/2017, to £26,000 in 2019/2020, following the implementation of a British Sign Language (BSL) Plan in October 2017.

HeraldScotland: The top spenders in the UK were NHS GGC, Southern Health trust in Northern Ireland, and Manchester University Trust in England (Source: Inbox Translation)The top spenders in the UK were NHS GGC, Southern Health trust in Northern Ireland, and Manchester University Trust in England (Source: Inbox Translation)

In 2013, NHS Tayside apologised and agreed to pay compensation after the Equality and Human Rights Commission raised legal proceedings on behalf of a 65-year-old deaf patient, Sally Doering, who had spent six days as an inpatient at Perth Royal Infirmary without a sign language interpreter.

Mrs Doering - who had a potentially life-threatening lung infection at the time - was unable to find out what was happening or what was wrong with her, and could not let staff know she was in pain, or even choose her meals.

It was the third time in two years that the PRI had been censured over the same issue.

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Concluding its report, Inbox Translation said: "We believe that this study has generated valuable information on the overall NHS spending on translation and interpreting, while also highlighting weaknesses and limitations in data recording which make it impossible to provide a complete picture on spending on various types of services, and trends over time.

"The main recommendation arising from our research is for more comprehensive and consistent data recording on translation and interpreting services on the part of NHS organisations.

"If achieved, this could potentially be used by the NHS and service providers to improve service coverage and cost-effectiveness."