Health bosses used taxpayer-funded credit cards to pay for helicopter lessons, go-karting and five-star hotels.
Despite the NHS facing an unprecedented funding crisis, officials have been using the cards to splurge money on luxuries, bars and restaurants.
They have racked up £5.8million worth of spending in the past two years alone. The ‘government procurement cards’ were introduced by Labour in 1997, supposedly to enable senior staff to easily fund office supplies and travel costs.
But a Daily Mail investigation found senior officials in the largest health bodies have been using them in Wetherspoon’s pubs, cocktail bars, bowling alleys and McDonalds.
One chief executive used his card to pay for a private helicopter lesson in the Cotswolds. Keith Conradi, head of the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, claimed the £562 training day was a necessary part of his job. He has now been ordered to pay the money back.
The Mail’s audit also found:Public Health England staff racked up a £310 bill for a ‘smoothie bike’ using pedal-power to blend fruit; They used the cards to stay at the Altishotel in Lisbon and the Intercontinental Hotel in Beijing; At the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the cards were spent in KFC, Starbucks, kebab joints, all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets and pubs; MHRA employees also used them to buy 253 meals at McDonald’s splashing a total of £1,433 on the fast food.
The cards were issued to senior staff in the health organisations as a convenient replacement for invoices. They were meant to ensure payments were made more promptly for low-cost items such as stationery and computer equipment.
But there is growing evidence they are abused and spent on personal items and frivolities rather than office necessities.
The Mail used the Freedom of Information Act to ask 11 of the largest health bodies and watchdogs for details of their expenses on the cards.
More than £25,000 was spent on taxis over two years by senior NHS staff, including on Uber and Addison Lee
Between them they had issued cards to 692 staff and spent at least £5.8million in the two years since March 2016, although the figure could be higher as some organisations refused to provide all their bills.
The responses show the cards were routinely used to buy groceries, with £24,500 spent in Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons.
Another £25,100 was used on taxis, of which £17,100 was billed by Public Health England, which advises people on a healthy lifestyle.
Nearly £25,000 was spent in supermarkets including Waitrose, Tesco, Marks&Spencer, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons
At NHS Blood and Transplant, which oversees organ donations, the cards were used to fund a trip to the Eddie Irving go-karting centre in Belfast, for ‘teambuilding’. Staff also went on six bowling trips and to a cocktail bar in Bristol.
Meanwhile, the NHS is facing its worst funding difficulties in its 70-year history.
The British Medical Association is today releasing a study warning that the NHS is likely to see the ‘winter crisis’ extend into the summer. The BMA believes levels of demand and activity this summer will mirror winters of two or three years ago.
Health service staff spent taxpayers money in Starbucks, KFC, Domino's and McDonalds
The health service came under huge pressure this winter, with A&E attendance, waiting times and admissions reaching alarming levels in England. Patients are being denied hip replacements and cataract surgeries and GPs have been told to stop handing out common prescription drugs.
Last night, the Mail’s findings sparked anger, with critics saying money had been ‘squandered’. Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said: ‘Not only is it outrageous that hard-earned taxpayers’ money is being frivolously squandered on stays at plush resorts and pricey restaurants, these revelations smack of brazen hypocrisy.
‘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.’
One health boss spent more than £500 on helicopter lessons (file photo)
Alex Wild, of 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