HEALTH chiefs have been accused of running a “luxury chauffeur” service after it emerged millions of pounds have been spent ferrying patients by private taxis.
One Scottish health board – NHS Lanarkshire – spent nearly £1million in just five years on private taxi fares for patients.
Many other cash-strapped boards lavished six-figure sums on taxis – despite taxpayers already forking out £200m a year to fund the Scottish Ambulance Service.
Figures obtained through Freedom of Information revealed NHS Lanarkshire has splashed £914,296 since 2007 on private taxi fares for transporting patients.
NHS Fife was another big spender, forking out £740,583 for the same period.
NHS Dumfries and Galloway spent a whopping £420,377 and NHS Borders £214,999.
NHS Western Isles spent £14,836 since 2007.
Two boards refused to provide exact figures, but NHS Ayrshire and Arran admitted it had spent £1.9m on private taxis and NHS Highland spent £1.14m on cabs.
Five boards – including NHS Lothian and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – refused to reveal any information about their taxi spending, claiming either they did not hold the information or it would cost too much to provide.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “There are of course times when a vulnerable patient should benefit from a taxi either to or from the hospital.
“But the majority of hospitals are served well by public transport, and it shouldn’t be an automatic expectation that a free taxi will be laid on.
“Budgets are tight, and this is a luxury that should only be afforded when it is actually needed.
“It shouldn’t be the case that patients perfectly able to use public transport should be chauffeured to and from hospital.
“And with the majority of hospitals now not charging for parking, it is much easier to drive there.”
A spokesman from TaxpayerScotland added: “Scotland’s health services need to look at how more diversity could be built into their supply chains. Too many services are being provided on a monopoly basis with no competition to drive down prices.
“Taxis may be a good solution to patient transport in some areas, but not in others; but the NHS needs to find a way of making sure that they get best value for whichever transport method is used. They should even be questioning if too much patient transport is offered taking money away from clinical spending.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service patient transport service already transports around 1.3million patients to and from hospital each year.
Patients with a medical need or with limited mobility are also taken to and from their pre-arranged hospital appointments, or for their admission and discharge to hospital.
Calum Campbell, NHS Borders Chief Executive, said the rural nature of the Borders limited public transport options.
She said: “NHS Borders arranges transport for patients in certain circumstances. Examples of this include patients being transferred to another hospital, a clinic or nursing home. It also sometimes applies to patients who are discharged home.
“Where NHS transport is not available other means of transport is arranged. Due to the rural nature of the Borders and limited public transport, particularly in the evenings, a taxi is occasionally the only means of transport.
Mrs Chris Bowring, Director of Finance at NHS Fife added: “NHS Fife use taxi companies that have been appointed following a thorough tendering process.
“There are instances when patients who require care and need help with transport are more appropriately served by the use of private taxis.
“The increase in cost reflects the increase in patients in specific specialties such as renal services, providing a more flexible response.
“The use of taxis allows flexibility in transporting, where appropriate, some patients’ home more quickly instead of waiting for other transport. This benefits the patient and the service.”