Data from 55 NHS hospitals, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that they had spent £1,536,497 on interpretation in maternity services in 2013-14, with the most commonly requested language Polish.
Although some hospitals were unable to provide figures, if the rest of the 138 NHS maternity services in England spent the same amount on average, the total cost would be almost £4 million.
Interpreters are used both in delivery suites and in antenatal and foetal medicine clinics. More than a quarter of babies born in England and Wales are born to mothers who arrived in Britain from other countries. Of 698,512 births in 2013, 185,075 were to mothers themselves born abroad.
The proportion of births to mothers born abroad has increased every year since 1990, when it was 11.6 per cent.
The most common countries of origin were Poland, from where three per cent of mothers came, Pakistan (2.7 per cent) and India (2 per cent).
According to the responses, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust spent the most on interpreters in 2013-14, at £359,433, with Polish the most commonly required language.
At Barts, in east London, Bengali and Sylheti were the most requested languages, while in Birmingham and central Manchester it was Urdu, and in east Kent and Sheffield, Slovak.
Last year, there was concern that pregnant foreign women might be coming to Britain with the intention of giving birth free on the NHS. A government report found that over a two-year period, immigration officials at Gatwick stopped more than 300 women in an “advanced stage of pregnancy”.
Alp Mehmet, the vice-chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “Clearly, increasing demand for interpreters is the result of a growing number of non-English speaking patients. There is ample anecdotal evidence that points to foreign-born women coming to the UK to take advantage of the UK’s high quality and free maternity services. Data obtained by The Times seems to confirm this.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The decision on whether to use interpreters is down to individual trusts . . . Where a patient is chargeable and does not speak English as their first language, trusts can include interpretation costs as part of their administrative charges and the government would expect them to do so. We are also looking at how the NHS can recover more costs from people not entitled to free care.”