Ukip man demands 'teach foreigners English' as it's revealed £3m was spent on translators for migrants visiting GPs last year
Foreign nationals should be taught English to cut the costs on GP services in Northern Ireland, a Ukip MLA has said.
Almost £3m was spent providing translation for migrants visiting doctors last year.
The figures were disclosed by the Health Minister in response to an Assembly question from David McNarry.
"Surely it wouldn't cost that much to teach people to speak English," Mr McNarry said.
The Ukip MLA said he had heard reports from voters that foreign nationals had been "block-booking" GP appointments in some areas because of their lack of English.
However, Health Minister Edwin Poots said he was not aware of this.
Mr Poots said GPs access interpreters through the Regional Interpreting Service and three external providers.
The cost of the Regional Interpreting Service was £2.6m in the 2012/13 financial year. The external services cost £97,000.
Mr McNarry said it would be preferable for patients to learn English rather than having to rely on costly interpreters.
"I wouldn't want anyone to be wrongly treated, but nearly £3m to provide interpreters is an enormous sum," he said. "Our health service is already in financial turmoil, and these type of costs only add to the stress."
Mr McNarry said he had been told that in parts of Tyrone and Mid-Ulster, migrants had block-booked appointments when interpreters had been made available.
"What was coming across to me was that this is why it was difficult for some people in some places to get an appointment," he added.
Mr McNarry said that interpreters were not a sustainable solution.
"We're not dealing with the language problem," he added.
"All we're doing is spending nearly £3m in helping people with that problem.
"We don't seem to be helping anyone to overcome it by learning English."
Mr Poots said GP practices are required to provide services to meet the reasonable needs of registered patients during their core hours.
"I am not aware of GP practices engaging in block-booking patient appointments for foreign nationals," the minister said.
"Practices respond to patient requests for appointments and manage these on an individual patient basis depending upon clinical need and the volume of appointments requested or the level of demand at any given time."