ALMOST £300,000 has been spent on providing interpreters for non-English speaking patients attending West Suffolk Hospital during the past three years, the EADT can reveal.

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Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request show the Bury St Edmunds-based hospital has paid out £96,469 in the past year alone on translating services. This is compared to Ipswich Hospital, which spent just £14,424 on similar services during the same period.

Most of Suffolk’s hospitals provide translation services via an agency and do not employ interpreters directly. West Suffolk’s translators are employed by CINTRA – one of the UK’s leading translation providers to the public and private sectors.

Last night, a spokesman for the hospital defended the budget for the service, which he said “fulfilled a duty” under the Race Relations and Equality Acts to ensure everyone had equal access to the hospital’s facilities.

The interpreting bill at West Suffolk has remained consistently high during the past three years, with a spend of £93,225 in 2009/10 followed by £99,631 in 2010/11.

The spokesman said: “The amount hospitals spend on translation services varies greatly depending on the diversity of the local population. We are committed to providing the best possible value for money on behalf of our patients and constantly review all of our budgets to look for ways to further improve efficiency.”

WSH could not provide data for the number of patients who required their interpreting service during a year, and none of the hospital trusts contacted by the EADT were able to confirm the average salary or fee paid for an interpreter.

A spokesman for Ipswich Hospital said they used the independently-run Ipswich-based Translation and Interpreting Project (TIP) to provide face-to-face interpreters when required. TIP was part of the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality until budget cuts forced a split this April.

The £14,424 spent at Ipswich Hospital this year also includes British Sign Language translation for deaf patients according to the spokesman, who added: “Previous years’ budgets have been £24,340 per year and we have successfully reduced this by the improved and appropriate use of Language Line (which provides an over-the-phone translation service), which can be used where clinically appropriate.”

Another of the county’s hospitals, James Paget in Gorleston, paid out £71,520 for interpreters between 2011/12 – a rise from the $52,242 they spent between 2009/10.

The hospital confirmed that between January 2010 and the following year, interpreters had been required for 109 outpatient appointments and 57 inpatient stays. During that period the bill for providing the service was £58,104.

The West Suffolk Hospital spokesman said it was “essential for the safety” of all patients that hospital staff could communicate with them accurately and effectively, especially when discussing diagnosis or treatment options. He concluded: “Ensuring our patients are receiving reliable information which is easy to understand is also vital in gaining their consent before their treatment begins.

“We provide translation through a telephone system wherever possible. However, in certain circumstances, such as breaking bad news or discussing sensitive subjects, we feel it is more appropriate to offer a face-to-face service using qualified interpreters who are trained in medical terminology.”

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