NATIONAL HEALTH HOSPITALS and mental health trusts in England have been accused of spending too much money on taxis and private hire vehicles.
Figures uncovered by the Press Association show that 170 NHS organisations spent tens of millions of pounds transferring patients who were too ill, frail or unable to travel to and from appointments by themselves.
The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation was one of the biggest users of private cabs and spent £722,000 on transporting patients, according to data supplied by the Health & Social Care Information Centre for 2014/15.
The figures also show that: South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £617,008, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £261,338 and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust spent £346,857.
Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association said:
There is an exorbitant amount of waste and inefficiency in the NHS and we’ve got to stop it.
“Surely, by putting some time aside for planning patients’ needs, we could use hospital transport far more effectively and not continue to waste money on private taxis.”
A spokesman for the North East Ambulance Service said: “The vast majority of taxi services are procured as part of non-emergency patient transport services to cover pre-arranged non-urgent journeys; for example, transport to and from hospital appointments.
Where clinically safe to do so, we also use taxi services for patients who are triaged as needing to go to hospital appointments.
“We have purposefully gone out to contract with reputable taxi services who work to specification so that we know they are safe and caring.”
Leigh Adams, director of facilities and estates for the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust said: “UH Bristol has a contract in place with a taxi company to support the trust’s existing transport services.
“This contract went through a tender process to ensure the trust receives a service that is good value for money, without compromising quality and efficiency.”
Stuart Logan, deputy head of emergency medicine at Leicester’s Hospitals, said:
We treat over one million patients a year, so keeping the flow of patients moving through our hospitals is crucial.
Sometimes that means we have to make the decision to pay for a private taxi for a patient or relative because there is no alternative available.”
Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation, a mental health trust said that its £679,034 taxi and private hire bill was for patients in the, “early stages of recovery” and that it encouraged those that could, to make use of public transport.
Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust said it was planning to cut its £132.089 cab bill in the future while the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said that some of its £84,180 use of taxis had been to free up bed space on wards.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “When times are hard and every NHS trust is having to find necessary savings, taxpayers will wonder if spending such a huge amount of money on taxis can really be good value.
“Authorities must do everything possible to make sure that costs are kept down and come up with the most efficient method of transporting patients.
Every penny wasted is a penny taken away form cancer drugs and specialist nurses.”
A spokesman for NHS England said: “For several decades, it has been common practise to contract out for non-emergency patient transport providers, so as not to tie up emergency ambulances on routine but necessary trips to hospital by patients who qualify for public support.”