Belfast Trust spent £600k on consultants in two years
Cash-strapped health bosses paid out more than £600,000 for advice from management consultants in just two years, it has emerged.
According to official figures, the Belfast Health Trust paid £7,100 to a private management consultant for 15 days of support in relation to the damning hyponatraemia report.
Meanwhile, it has also tasked another private management consultant to help with work around the ongoing recall of more than 3,000 neurology patients in the Belfast Trust.
The work is expected to take 30 days to complete, at a cost of £15,000.
The information has been released by the Business Services Organisation (BSO), which revealed that the HSC Leadership Centre (HSCLC) provided consultancy services to the Belfast Trust at a cost of £630,701 between 2016 and 2018.
It comes as the health service in Northern Ireland faces unprecedented financial pressures.
Health trusts are becoming increasingly reliant on cash injections from the likes of in-year monitoring rounds and the DUP-Conservative confidence and supply deal just to make ends meet.
In January, the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) released a report warning that Northern Ireland's health service could have a funding gap of up to £540m a year.
However, the figures released by the BSO reveal that while thousands of patients spend up to five years waiting in agony for operations for painful and debilitating conditions, the HSCLC is paying private consultants £500 a day for their services.
Alliance MLA, Paula Bradshaw, said she was surprised and concerned to learn the private consultants had been engaged at such a cost to the public purse.
She continued: "In my opinion, the role of the health service is to support patients and their carers at times when health needs arise; and the funding that is allocated to the Department of Health for the provision of care and treatment to meet these needs is finite and in fierce demand right across the sector, and so I will be following this up to find out why the consultants were engaged.
"Having supported a number of individuals and families affected by the neurology recall process and the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, I am particularly curious to learn more about the nature of this commissioned work and sincerely hope that it is not for the purpose of crisis management."
The HSCLC, which comes under the BSO, provides a range of services to health and social care organisations in Northern Ireland, including consultancy services.
These include leadership development programmes, support for improvement, team development and other support, including investigations.
The HSCLC currently has a pool of about 90 private consultants, known as associate consultants, that can be drawn upon as and when required.
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said it has used the resources of the HSCLC for two specific pieces of work "through normal business arrangements".
She continued: "Firstly, to provide additional support to the trust in the implementation of the 96 recommendations of the findings of the inquiry into hyponatraemia-related deaths which was published on January 31 this year and which are actively being addressed within the trust and as part of the departmental framework.
"Secondly, in preparation for the independent inquiry panel as a result of the recall of neurology patients, we have secured additional assistance to support us in providing the inquiry with all relevant, extensive, and detailed documentation in a timely way."
The Belfast Trust was criticised by the chair of the Hyponatraemia Report, John O'Hara, in his report which was published in January.
The inquiry, which examined the deaths of five children, found that four of the deaths were avoidable.
Meanwhile, work is ongoing to identify whether any patients seen by consultant neurologist, Michael Watt, have come to any harm.
The Belfast Trust has been forced to find additional resources to hold clinics to see more than 3,500 patients and ensure they are receiving the best treatment possible.