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Should the NHS curb spending on translation services?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39126.572431.47 (Published 22 February 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:398
  1. Kate Adams, general practitioner
  1. Hackney, London N1 5DR
  1. kateadams{at}doctors.org.uk

    Millions of pounds are spent on NHS translation services each year. David Jones believes that current service provision is patchy and more investment is needed, whereas Kate Adams argues that doctors should encourage patients to learn English to avoid future public health problems

    On 12 December 2006, the BBC reported on the high price being paid for the provision of translation services. A conservative estimate for the National Health Service alone was £55 million (€82m; $107m), with the true figure likely to be much more, and the cost of providing such services across all public services was said to be rising sharply.1 The report received lots of public feedback, mainly expressing concern. Ruth Kelly, the secretary of state for communities and local government, asked for a review of language services across government departments.

    The complex concept of citizenship, with its emphasis on encouraging integration, is high on the government's agenda and a vital part of this is language competence. People applying for UK citizenship are now required to pass an English test.

    As a general practitioner in Hackney in inner London I see many patients whose English is either non-existent or so poor that they need translation support. In individual …

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