THE cash-strapped HSE is spending over €2,600 every week on taxis to transport staff between two hospitals which are 4.5km apart.
Official HSE figures for last year revealed that €137,730 was used to ferry staff along the short journey in Limerick between the city's main hospital and maternity hospital.
The annual spend of €137,730 – or €2,648 per week – on transporting staff between the two Limerick hospitals accounts for 61pc of the HSE's taxi bill of €223,938 for staff in the entire HSE West area. The region stretches from Donegal to Limerick. The Limerick taxi bill amounts to an average spend of €378 per day.
Three separate taxi firms in the city all quoted €10 as the fare for the same journey between the two hospitals.
St Munchin's regional maternity hospital on the Ennis road is located on the northern side of Limerick city, while the Mid-Western regional hospital in the Dooradoyle suburb is on the southern side of the river Shannon.
Last year, the HSE spent €4.2m on transporting cancer and dialysis patients across nine counties along the western seaboard.
HSE Forum West chairman Padraig Conneely has asked the HSE to examine ways to achieve substantial savings on the taxi bill.
At a forum meeting, HSE regional director of operations John Hennessy said there were other agencies and bodies who could do a better job than the HSE in this area.
Acknowledging that the cost of providing taxi transport was expensive, Mr Hennessy confirmed the HSE had taken steps to reduce the cost by requesting tenders during the procurement process.
Regarding the sum spent on taxis between the two hospitals, a HSE spokesman said that maternity services in Limerick operate around the clock 24/7 and are expensive by nature.
"Taxis are used for many different purposes including transporting doctors, anaesthetists, nurses, blood, urgent test results and lab samples.
"Taxi services are subject to public service procurement rules and are subject to review, as with all our expenditure, by the controller and auditor general," the spokesman said.
"The long term objective is the building of a new state-of-the-art maternity hospital on the Dooradoyle campus, subject to national finances."