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Britain’s biggest trade union is raising alarms about a scheme by hospitals in Britain to cut costs outsourcing the transcription of confidential patient records to India, the Philippines and South Africa.

The Guardian Weekly reports that hospital trusts (the organizations that run Britain’s hospitals) say they must do this to save millions of pounds for the National Health Service (NHS).

Lives are being put at risk by hospitals desperate to save money,” said Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the United Kingdom’s main public sector union. “Medical secretaries work to 99.8 per cent accuracy; once phased out, their knowledge and expertise will be lost forever.” Prentis pointed out that errors can occur when transcribers are unfamiliar with the language or medical terminology.

British hospitals are under pressure from the government to cut costs, and overseas transcription companies offer services at a fraction of the cost of full-time, unionized staff. Transcription companies sometimes even offer free trials of their services.

However, not all the hospital trusts are jumping on the bandwagon. Some have cancelled plans to use foreign transcribers after union protests raised public concerns about the reliability of such services, the possible impact on patient health, and the loss of local jobs.