Belfast Telegraph

Health staff ring up £1.1m bill for mobile phone use

By Connla Young

Health chiefs are facing calls to crack down on the use of mobile phones after it emerged the cost of staff bills has almost doubled in just three years.

It’s emerged that the public purse is picking up the tab for almost 10,000 health trust staff members given mobile phones by their employers.

Damning figures reveal the cost of mobile phone calls for the five health and social care trusts has rocketed from £664,026 in 2007/2008 to £1,144,139 in 2009/2010.

The shock figures come as the Department of Health faces increasing pressure over introducing efficiencies in spending.

The statistics were revealed to outgoing Assemblyman Lord Morrow.

The DUP man last night called on trust bosses to curb the use of mobile phones by their staff.

He said: “There is no doubt there are medical staff who must have mobile phones, there’s no dispute about that. But how many heart operations could you provide for £1.1m, and how many nurses could be put into wards for £1.1m?

“I think it is something that all trusts are going to have to take a look at in these austere times, when the minister is telling us he can’t provide essential frontline services.

“It looks like this is careering out of control. Rather than the figures going down, they are going up.”

Belfast Health Trust staff topped the mobile bill league table with 2,937 members running up calls costing £375,880 during the last financial year. In 2007/08 the trust’s mobile bill was £278,455.

Lord Morrow said he was concerned by the high numbers of staff who use mobile phones paid for from the public pot.

He said: “I am alarmed that over 2,900 mobile phones are in use in the Belfast trust area, that is an astronomical amount of mobile phones among staff.”

A number of the trusts contacted said they were unable to give a breakdown of how many phones have been given to each department within their organisations.

However, each of the trusts claimed they redeem the cost of all personal calls made from staff mobile phones.

Lord Morrow says it’s unacceptable that trusts don’t know how many phones are allocated to individual departments.

He said: “It’s not good enough for the trusts to say they have not got a breakdown for who has and who has not got mobile phones. “If I am returned to the Assembly it is an issue I am willing to return to. This needs to be dealt with. It’s just not good enough.”

A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust explained why its mobile phone bill is so high.

She said: “There is an increased use of data tariffs required for newer push email devices.

“A number of staff who have previously used private phones for trust business have now moved to lower cost-fixed trust tariffs.

“Mobile phone SIMs also being used in outgoing external telephone calls from switchboard and staff reduce the call costs to patients and clients of the trust.

“Patients/clients are increasingly using their mobile as the primary contact number, rather than their fixed-cost landline.

“This mechanism reduces the overall cost to the trust in contacting patients and clients on their mobiles.

Asked if there was a breakdown of which staff have mobiles issued and what is the criteria for being issued with one, the spokeswoman said: “There is no breakdown available by functional group, however each request for a mobile phone must be approved at senior management level to ensure that the rationale for use also meets the needs of the organisation.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health confirmed it has issued no policies to trusts in relation to the use of mobile phones by staff members.

Cost of calling

BELFAST HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE TRUST:

2007/08: £278,455

2008/09: £350,564

2009/10: £375,880

Phones in use: 2,937

NORTHERN HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE TRUST:

2007/08: £90,943

2008/09: £130,762

2009/10: £179,300

Phones in use: 1,941

SOUTH EASTERN HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE TRUST:

2007/08: £164,113

2008/09: £219,789

2009/10: £324,872

Phones in use: 2,095

WESTERN HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE TRUST:

2007/08: £34,715

2008/09: £88,942

2009/10: £118,330

Phones in use: 1,100

SOUTHERN HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE TRUST:

2007/08: £95,800

2008/09: £100.583

2009/10: £145,757

Phones in use: 1,400

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