£5m spent on translation services
More than £5m has been spent on translation and interpretation services in Northern Ireland's health service during the last three years, it has been revealed.
Spoken and written English is translated into 36 minority languages, with Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese among the most common.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said that the figures were alarming.
But a doctor with surgeries in east and north Belfast insisted that it was money well spent on a “very vulnerable group of people” and represented a “mere fraction of the overall health budget”.
Three hundred and fifty four interpreters work across the region, the five health trusts confirmed. Services include face-to-face and telephone interpretation and written translation of documents.
Mr Dallat said: “These figures are alarming and need urgent reassessment.
“While the trusts must ensure people are not disadvantaged due to language difficulties, care should be taken to explore the voluntary and community sector for volunteers who will do this work without charge.”
A spokeswoman for Belfast Health Trust said they were required to ensure equality of access to services for people who are not proficient in English.
“There is a raft of legislation which outlines this statutory duty for designated public authorities,” she added.
Around £5.7m was spent between April 2009 and January 2012, according to the trust.