Belfast Health Trust £85k trip to Amsterdam included audience with Caitlyn Jenner and treasure hunt
An audience with US transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, a treasure hunt around Amsterdam and an evening of 10-pin bowling were among the activities laid on for 61 delegates from Belfast Health Trust at a health conference in the Netherlands, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The much-criticised trip, which took place last week and cost the Belfast Trust £85,000, also featured a seminar in 'how we all make sense of mistakes in healthcare' - which may be useful as delegates returned to the news that 2,500 patients had been recalled following concerns over their treatment by neurologist Dr Michael Watt.
The cost of registration alone for the Amsterdam conference ranged between £1,000 and £1,300 per delegate, paid by the Belfast Trust out of public funds, excluding travel, accommodation and subsistence allowances.
Up to another £1,000 per delegate was paid for by the Belfast Trust out of public funds.
According to the programme for the three-day event, 61 staff were also treated to a "mass takeover of one of Amsterdam's biggest and best 10-pin bowling venues to make your experience a striking success".
There was also a 'Campervan of Dreams' featuring a 1973 Volkswagen van transformed into a dream-enabling camper to allow delegates to articulate thoughts from the conference, and a 'dancin' power' session where those attending were "shown the positive impact and improvement in the quality of life that their unique combination of mindfulness, music, movement, and dance has made on hospitalized children and their families".
It's understood Caitlyn Jenner, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner and star of MTV'S Keeping Up with the Kardashians, was due to speak on issues of transgender medicine.
Around 100 health workers from across Northern Ireland attended the International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare. It's understood the South Eastern Health Trust sent 17 people, the Western Trust sent 14 staff, the Northern Trust sent nine, and three people from the Southern Trust were in attendance.
The trip took place despite the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, writing to trusts and other health organisations in September 2016 "reminding them of the need for effective and proportionate controls on staff travel".
The department said that "having been alerted to plans for the Amsterdam conference, it immediately wrote to trusts and other HSC (Health and Social Care) bodies".
"They were asked for full details of staff numbers attending and the costs involved; and to urgently explain how the planned travel complied with the criteria set out in September 2016," the Department of Health NI added.
The Belfast Health Trust said the total cost of £85,000 "covered flights, accommodation and the cost of the conference".
It claimed the conference would "offer staff a tremendous amount of education, learning and ideas which may be adopted in Belfast to improve how we deliver services to our patients and service users".
The trust said there was a mix of professional groups including doctors, nurses, social workers, managers and directors.
"Several of the party are attending to present their improvement work as their project posters were submitted and selected by IHI (Institute for Healthcare Improvement) to be displayed," it added.
"This investment will significantly add value to the Belfast Trust and will equip staff with skills, ideas and contacts to make improvements to the services we deliver.
"The best-performing hospitals worldwide invest in quality and safety leadership training and development including considerable investment in external consultancy.
"This investment is only a fraction of that and is focused on giving our staff the tools they need to improve quality and engage front line staff."
Former public sector union leader, Bumper Graham, said the cost of the trip was "exceptionally high".
"In situations like this, a small number should attend," he said.
NI Conservative Frank Shivers said the perception would be that it is a "junket".
"Look at the cost of it - it could have be done in a hotel in Belfast where you invite those 100-odd people and whatever is specific to their skills could be televised or just put on the computer.
"There is absolutely no need for so many of them to go across.
"This is precisely the type of thing that annoys the people in Northern Ireland."