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UK health chiefs' £6m expenses spend on state credit cards

By Thomas Hornall

Health bosses have come under fire after racking up almost £6million in expenses on taxpayer-funded credit cards in the past two years.

Among the purchases were stays at five-star hotels, a hired "smoothie bike" and go-karting trips, it was reported.

One chief even billed the taxpayer £562 for a private helicopter lesson, but has now been told to repay the fee.

The findings were revealed through Freedom of Information requests by the Daily Mail, which showed at least £5.8m was spent by some 692 staff in the two years since March 2016.

The figures cover expenses accrued on "government procurement cards" across 11 of the largest health bodies and watchdogs.

Public Health England chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said: "Our experts protect lives in the UK and overseas 24/7.

"Expenses for scientific research, sharing expertise and learning from global best practice are completely necessary for their work."

Keith Conradi, head of the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, will repay the fee claimed for his helicopter lesson, the branch confirmed.

Alex Wild, research director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Procurement cards are supposed to be used as a cost-effective means of buying low-value goods and services.

"But time and time again they're used as a quick and easy way to rip off taxpayers for life's luxuries.

"It's not credible for NHS bosses to be pleading poverty, demanding the Chancellor hands them more cash, while billing taxpayers for stays at some of the world's most luxurious resorts."

Mark Littlewood, from the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said: "The financial constraints of the NHS is made all the more depressing when we see how carelessly the money is being spent.

"It's high time these quangos were held to account."

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued 266 workers with cards, allowing them to buy meals and laundry bills if they travelled or worked longer hours.

An MHRA spokesman said staff regularly attended meetings, inspections and conferences away from the office.

He added: "Staff are permitted to claim a small reimbursement for out-of-pocket travel and subsistence expenses.

"MHRA staff have a duty to ensure public resources are safeguarded and used economically. We believe our staff adhere to these principles."

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