The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has spent over £1.3million on interpreters for patients who do not speak English in the last financial year.
According to figures obtained by TUV leader Jim Allister from the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Southern Trust has the highest amount spent out of all the trusts in the country.
The Southern Trust, which includes Craigavon Area Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry spent £1,309,514 on interpreters in 2013/14.
The next highest ranking spend was the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust with £755,307, while the Northern Trust spent £435,605.
The total amount spent across the country by the health trusts including the NI Ambulance Service was £2,906,967 in the last financial year.
Commenting on the figures, DUP MLA Lord Maurice Morrow said: “The cost of interpreters within the health service is something on which I have expressed concerns in the past.
“I do not wish to deny anyone the assistance they require, particularly when in need or distress, but the costs are soaring.
“It is no huge surprise costs for interpretation in the Southern Health & Social Care Trust is high as we have a large migrant population, consisting of a diverse range of nationalities including Portuguese, Lithuanian, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Romanian and East Timorese. Each nationality needs specific interpreter services and although some providers are multi-lingual, the majority are not.
“Consequently more interpreters are required and it needs to be several for each language as no-one is available across the board 24/7.
“There was a time when a non-national’s native country contributed to the costs of medical treatment required and carried out in a host country, and I think it’s time the same consideration was given to interpreter services.
“We are fighting to keep health services free at the point of delivery, and the budget is strained to breaking point, so every opportunity to claw back funding must be availed of.
“There is also the option of those requiring interpreter services contributing to at least some of the costs.
“Either that, or a facilitation fund must be established through the European Union, covering the costs of interpreters to ensure the rights of patients are protected and services accessed when required. This would also apply to people go abroad from Northern Ireland.
“As matters stand, the pay-outs for interpreters are just too high and the cash is coming from central funds within the health service.
“I do not wish to criticise the interpreters because their services are invaluable, and they have to be paid accordingly. However the overall impact cannot be underestimated.”