Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Health Trust spends more than £1m on taxis for patients and clients in year

A Northern Ireland Health Trust spent more than £1million on taxis for patients and clients in the year 2014.

It was revealed in a written question to health minister Jim Wells from Sinn Fein MLA Chris Hazzard.

Mr Hazzard asked Mr Wells to reveal how much the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust spent on taxi services in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

In response, DUP MLA Mr Wells said the expenditure includes costs for private taxis and bus hire companies.

The figures showed that in 2013/14 the total costs were £1,007,027,  it had dropped slightly in 2012/2013 with a total of £934,412 and before that in 2011/2012  it was a total of £1,014,604.

The South Eastern Trust said "all expenditure on client taxis is as a direct consequence of service need" and were used in areas such as Mental Health and Children's services.

In his written answer Mr Wells said: "Taxis are used for the transport of patients and clients, e.g. the safe transportation of children in care; adult mental health outpatients, facilitating transport of patients to renal dialysis treatment; transporting clients to day centres etc. In addition taxis are required for the transportation of blood, medical records, equipment and staff escorting patients.

"The use of taxis by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust is planned and monitored."

Mr Hazzard said it was a "false economy".

He told the Irish News: "This is at a time when the Trust needs to be examining how they are spending money, and when we are hearing about car parking charges potentially being introduced in the Downe and Downshire Hospitals and beds being cut.

"There is no reason why the transport staff who are employed by the Trust could not be doing this work We have heard for years that they will look at this issue but the cost continues to rise."

In a statement the South Eastern Trust said: "The Trust has a fleet of vehicles and Trust transport is always the first option when it is available, and when it is appropriate. All expenditure on client taxis is as a direct consequence of service need.

"For instance taxis are used to supplement Trust transport in specific areas where it is deemed inappropriate for the Trust to use its own fleet, such as in Mental Health and Children’s services. 

"In many cases, where a single patient, client or item is being transported, it is cheaper to use a taxi than a fleet vehicle.  This could also be the case in the evening, at week-ends, and in remote locations.   The taxi contract  is regularly tendered to ensure best value is obtained."

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