Anger over quango’s spending on overseas trips


By Cara Sulieman

A HEALTH quango has been pulled up on its spending after splashing to send its staff on overseas training trips.

Workers for NHS Education for Scotland (NES) were sent to 21 conferences in places including Sydney, Istanbul, and Durban.

And now the Scottish Government’s health secretary is demanding to know why the cash was spent.

The quango is supposed to use its £385 million budget to organise training and education for NHS staff.

But since 2007, a total of 65 staff have been sent all over the world to attend events which have little to do with their remit.

In 2007, 10 staff were sent to Norway for the Association for Medical Education annual conference.

The five-day event included courses like “podcasting: a student’s perspective”.

That year staff were also sent to a six-day conference in Japan and a three-day event in Vancouver.

The following year, five NES members were sent to Prague, four to Berlin, two to Turkey, five to Melbourne and one to Budapest.

And last year, 11 employees went on a five-day trip to a conference in Malaga.

The event included workshops on social media, including “Twitter for Medical Education – What is it and why should I care”.

In 2009, public money was spent on sending NES representatives to Helsinki, Paris, Dubrovnik and South Africa.

A whopping £10,791 was spent sending six members of staff to a conference in Miami while another was sent to the “Altogether Better Health” gathering in Sydney.

The quango is also facing criticism over the £43,000 bill for hiring out rooms for senior staff meetings.

Their board, senior management team and business group regularly met at the Murrayshill House Hotel in Perthshire since 2007, costing between £1312 and £2559 each time.

And the senior management team have met twice at Stirling Management Centre, costing around £5500 a time.

The health secretary said that she is looking into the extravagant spending and will be demanding a full explanation from Chief Executive Malcolm Wright.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “Everyone working in the health service needs to recognise the tight financial constraints on the NHS.

“I have asked the chair of NES to give a full account and explanation of these trips, and provide an assurance that in future greater scrutiny will be given to the need for such events.”

Jackie Baillie, Labour health spokesperson, added: “In the current economic circumstances it is essential that NHS resources are used in the best possible way.

“At a time when the number of nurses are being cut by 1500 I think it is very difficult to justify sending senior managers on trips to exotic locations like Miami and Sydney.”

But the quango said that they are doing their best to cut costs.

A spokesman for them said: “NES is acutely aware of the current and projected financial downturn facing Scotland.

“We regularly review all our activities and processes to ensure that we continue to deliver an efficient, targeted and cost-effective education and training service to NHS Scotland.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said: “The health secretary has a duty to make sure all health boards are spending taxpayers’ money wisely, particularly at a time when budgets are tight.

“NES needs to justify its decision to send staff all over the world.”