The NHS is wasting more than £1 billion of taxpayers' money a year as managers spend vastly differing amounts on the same supplies, the head of a government-backed healthcare efficiency drive has claimed.
John Neilson, managing director of NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), said cash was being needlessly squandered by health trusts who are paying multiple prices for identical equipment - ranging from stationery to surgical instruments.
He also claimed that millions could be saved by outsourcing more NHS administration overseas to countries such as India.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Neilson said: "It's scary. We actually have multiple prices being paid for the same item in the same trust, in the same month."
He claimed that NHS trusts were routinely paying as many as 19 different prices for the same pacemaker, wasting up to £750 a time.
And he said a host of other equipment such as computers were being bought at needlessly high prices - wasting around 12% of the NHS's purchasing budget.
Mr Neilson said the offenders ranged from family doctors to elite foundation hospitals and that trusts across the country were also buying a "bewildering" amount of different equipment to do the same jobs.
The health service spends around £13 billion a year on buying equipment.
"If you talk about 12% of that, it takes us into the low billions," added Mr Neilson. "They haven't got their purchasing under control at all."
A Department of Health spokesperson said NHS SBS initiatives had so far delivered savings of over £50 million, which had been reinvested in frontline patient care. A spokesman said: "As elsewhere across Government, we are working to use purchasing power to get the best possible deal for the taxpayer. NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts are seeking substantial procurement savings in their planned efficiency savings of up to £20bn over the next four years."