Bureaucrats at the new Leeds-based ruling body set up to run the NHS spent more than £7 million of taxpayers’ cash on rail fares, flights and accommodation in just 12 months, new figures reveal.
Staff at NHS England, which has main offices in Leeds and London, ran up bills of £600,000 a month on travel and hotel stays in 2013-14 in its first year of operation following the Government’s controversial reforms of the health service.
The amounts paid through the West Yorkshire branch of travel agent Redfern, which administers booking of rail and air travel and hotel accommodation for NHS England’s 5,300 staff, are worth £1,334 per head.
The huge costs follow previous revelations of expenses claims worth £196,000 by nine senior executives over 12 months on travel, meals and hotels, prompting a decision by incoming chief executive Simon Stevens to ban staff from using first class rail travel.
Last night, one union chief said the scale of the spending worth £7.1m sent “completely the wrong message”.
Head of health at Unison, Christina McAnea, said: “When times are tight, this is one of the areas that NHS England must be cutting back on. Huge amounts of money being spent on executive travel, cars and other perks sends out completely the wrong message.”
Tony Pearson, head of health for Unison in Yorkshire, said: “This seems to be a huge amount of spending on travel and accommodation especially at a time when our frontline members are facing continuing job cuts.
“We understand that staff in national organisations need to travel across the country on a regular basis but the costs of this seems very big indeed and our members would expect the chief executive of NHS England to reveal why they are so high.”
Leeds GP Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, welcomed the decision to cut spending including increased use of telephone and video conferencing.
He said it was important for managers to travel so they could not be accused of staying in “ivory towers”.
He added: “NHS managers don’t use first class travel now, they are in second class. They are required to stay in cost-effective hotels.”
NHS England confirmed the spending equated to £1,334 a head.
A spokesman said: “NHS England has staff based all over England, and it is necessary for them to be out talking to patients, clinicians and others in order to carry out the work of commissioning healthcare.
“Staff are expected to think like patients and act like taxpayers, and from April 2014 no staff are permitted to travel first class, and must use public transport where available.”
NHS England has two main offices at Quarry House in Leeds and in London, with other staff based all over the country.
A spokesman said its staff are expected to follow official travel and expenses policy using Redfern for online bookings of rail, air and hotel accommodation but last-minute meeting changes could mean accommodation is booked at short notice. Staff had been told to use public transport rather than taxis.
Figures published previously reveal NHS England’s director of patients and information, Tim Kelsey, spent £46,000 on expenses including £21,000 on hotels and nearly £7,000 on air fares during 2013-14.
Former chief executive Sir David Nicholson spent £32,000 including £6,700 on taxis over the period and chief nurse Jane Cummings spent £27,000 including £8,000 on hotels.
In total, 170 rail journeys by nine senior executives cost more than £200 including 70 between Leeds and London priced at £240 each.