The taxi bill of almost £600,000 chalked up by hospital bosses in north Cumbria is to be raised with the Prime Minister.
Copeland MP Jamie Reed reacted furiously to news that the NHS trust running Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital and The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle spent £585,000 on taxis in three years.
That was the bill for nearly 13,000 taxi journeys, used to transport drugs, patient records, and patients.
The spending – revealed in response to a Freedom of Information request from the News & Star – came to light as North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust confirmed it faces a predicted £49.5m deficit.
“This is utterly scandalous,” said Mr Reed.
“It’s a diabolical illustration of the chaos caused by centralising services at Carlisle. “The patient and the taxpayer both lose out. The worst of it is: we told them so. I’ll be raising this with the Prime Minister.
“The government is presiding over a seemingly endless crisis and it must get a grip.”
One Whitehaven based NHS campaigner said a patient sent from the town to Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary recently saw her medical records, crammed into carrier bags, arrive at that hospital in a taxi.
Trust officials rejected the claim, saying drugs and medical records are always sent in secure packages or containers.
The News & Star’s investigation revealed that the trust routinely uses taxis to transport pathology samples, medical records, and patients, with some individual taxi trips costing more than £600.
Managers say patients are sent by taxi if using an ambulance is not appropriate and to beat treatment waiting time targets.
Siobhan Gearing, who started the We Need West Cumberland Hospital Campaign, said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous.
“How can they claim to be in financial difficulty when they’re spending nearly £600,000 on taxis over three years?
“It makes no sense at all. That money would be better spent on the services which, time and time again, they tell us they can’t afford to give us.”
Mrs Gearing, a mother-of-two, who has argued consistently that services at the West Cumberland Hospital should be protected, said using taxis also raised questions about patient confidentiality.
She said: “A lady told me yesterday that she was at The Cumberland Infirmary for an appointment when a taxi arrived there and dropped off three carrier bags filled with her medical records.
“That’s not a professional way to run a hospital.
“A patient’s medical records should only be transported in a sealed, tamper-proof packet. It would make more sense if they employed somebody in the trust to do this work.
“It’s a management failure.”
In its response to our Freedom of Information request, the trust confirmed that 2,800 of the taxi journeys it paid for in the last three years were between the hospitals in Whitehaven and Carlisle.
The most expensive taxi trips, taking patients from Silloth to non-trust destinations, cost £640 and £600 respectively.
The public sector union Unison described the trust’s taxi bill as “excessive”.
But a spokeswoman for the trust said: We have a process in place for using taxis and we only send medical records and drugs in sealed bags and containers. The taxis we use operate under a formal contract.
“It happens in almost all other trusts.”
She added that previous investigations had shown it was more cost effective to use taxis rather than operate a similar service in-house. The practice is regularly reviewed, she said.
A recent centralisation of medical records is expected to reduce the need to use taxis, a statement added.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “There isn’t anything wrong with using taxis to fill in the gaps every now and then, but the authorities must make sure they opt for the most efficient option, providing value for taxpayers’ money.
“When families are struggling with ever-rising bills, authorities must do all they can to keep costs down.”