Leeds NHS £500,000 bill for consultants EXCLUSIVE

The NHS in Leeds is spending nearly £500,000 employing external consultants to help them SAVE money.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has been brought in to support a scheme to increase the quality of services while reducing costs as Government spending cuts bite.

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Already hospitals in Leeds are having to slash their workforce by 700 posts, and 300 mental health jobs in the city are also to go.

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The money being paid to professional services company PwC would meet the annual wages bill for 16 frontline nurses.

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All health bodies in the city are involved in the Transformation Programme to review the health and social care system and devise improvements.

NHS managers say a private firm has been employed to ensure the review is done quickly and every organisation is reviewed equally.

But patient watchdogs questioned why finance staff already employed within the NHS could not do the work.

Maureen Idle, of Leeds Hospital Alert, said: "It seems a lot of money and why, in a big organisation like Leeds NHS, have they not got someone internally who could do it?

"And if they are insisting it must be done externally, what guarantee have we got that they have shopped around to get the best price?"

John Lawlor, chief executive of NHS Leeds, defended the decision.

He said: "We are in a unique position at the moment where the whole Leeds health and social care system must transform to ensure it is fit for the future.

"This is no small task and we have enlisted the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers to support us in remodelling this complex system.

"The cost of the work is under 500,000 and we believe that the means justify the end, which will be a much more efficient, cost-effective health and social care system that continues to deliver quality care to local people."

He said they had established a Transformation Board to oversee the work to develop NHS services tailored around people's needs and using new technology to ensure the growing demands on the health service can be met with less funding.

Mr Lawlor said they had brought in PwC because the quicker they could develop new ways of working, the greater the opportunities to improve the system in the longer-term.

"The external support is also helping us to ensure that all parts of the local system are reviewed at the same time and in equal measure, enabling us all to make robust and objective decisions about the changes that are needed to ensure the best possible outcomes for local people within the constraints of the resource available to the NHS and Leeds City Council locally," he said.

NHS Leeds, the city's primary care trust which plans and funds healthcare for local residents, has an annual budget of over 1bn.

A spending squeeze is already hitting the health service, with Leeds hospitals needing to save 44m next year and NHS Leeds also having to find multi-million pound savings, even though it is being abolished in 2013.

That is part of the Coalition Government's NHS reorganisation which will see control of commissioning and paying for health services handed to groups of GPs.