Alarm over €121m HSE payout for taxi bills since 2006
THE Health Service Executive (HSE) has spent more than €121m on taxis for patients and staff since 2006.
The vast majority of the bill comprises transport for patients. However, €1.5m has been spent on taxis for staff members since the start of 2008, it has emerged.
Opposition politicians say the huge sum sounds alarm bells at a time when health chiefs are supposed to be reining in spending.
Figures released by the HSE show that just over €1.5m was spent on taxis for staff since 2008 -- and that spending appears to be on the rise again.
In 2008, the bill came to €713,193, before falling back to €659,020 a year later.
However, in the first quarter of this year, the bill came to just over €170,000. If this rate of spending continues for the remainder of 2010, the overall cost of taxis for staff could top €680,000.
The figures were released to Fine Gael deputy leader and health spokesman Dr James Reilly, following a parliamentary question. They show that the HSE is spending, on average, €29m a year on hiring taxis.
Dr Reilly said there was no doubt that efficiencies could be made on the taxi bill and throughout the health service, rather than making painful cutbacks to patient services.
"Clearly there is a need to provide transport for patients but there must be a question mark over whether this is the most efficient and safest way to meet that need.
"Furthermore, while it is true that staff will be required to accompany patients from time to time, a bill for staff taxis of €650,000-€700,000 sounds alarm bells. The HSE must provide a proper breakdown of this cost," he added.
"Instead of prioritising value for money, Minister Harney and the HSE slash away at frontline services to the real detriment of patients."
It emerged last week that the HSE has not tendered for taxi contracts for the past five years. Dr Reilly said this had allowed certain taxi providers to hang on to generous contracts without being subject to any competition in their area.
Last year, the McCarthy report on public spending recommended a review of patient transport services with a view to slashing the total bill by a fifth.
The HSE said the use of taxis for transporting patients was a more cost-effective solution and allowed for flexibility in the face of varying demand.