ALMOST £4m has been spent on interpreter fees by the Southern Health Trust over the past five years, more than all of the other trusts combined.
In the past year, the cost of interpreter fees shot up to £919,547 compared to just over half a million in 2007/08.
And in the previous year 2010/11 the fees peaked at a massive £919,977.
This year’s figure of almost £1m is in stark comparison to the £110,507 paid by the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust. Even the figure for Belfast for the past year was £527,467.
The figures for all the trusts were revealed in an Assembly question posed by West Tyrone MLA Ross Hussey.
A spokesperson said the Southern Trust has one of the largest ethnic minority populations in Northern Ireland with the services of Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese interpreters most requested.
“Provision of language assistance is a legal requirement for public sector organisations under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Human Rights Act 1998, Race Relations Order (NI) 2007 and EU Race Directive,” said the spokesperson.
“As an essential part of providing safe, high quality care to all patients and clients, we are committed to ensuring that everyone is given equal access to information about services in a format they can understand. “The Southern Trust has one of the largest ethnic minority populations in Northern Ireland. Approximately seven per cent of the population in Dungannon is from ethnic minorities; the Northern Ireland average is three per cent (approx.). The overall population of the Southern area is now the second largest in Northern Ireland and is projected to grow by 13.5 per cent by 2020. Our ethnic minority population is also likely to increase significantly by 2020 as birth rates are projected to keep growing.
“With access to interpreters for 36 minority ethnic languages, the Trust provides interpreting services on request. The most frequently requested languages in the Southern Trust are currently Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese. During the period 1st Oct 2011 – 30th Aug 2012 the total number of requests was 35,598.
“Interpreters are provided across all of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust Area for those who require language assistance. For example interpreting sessions can take place within our hospitals, in our Health and Social Care Centres and in patient and clients homes.
“Interpreters are provided regionally through the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Interpreting Service (NIHSCIS).”