Wigan health chiefs have today hit back at claims over extortionate taxi cab fares for patients.
Official data revealed earlier this month that Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust spent a staggering £30,000 on private taxis for patients in just one year.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) claimed that the trust spent the cash transferring patients by taxi when they were too ill, frail, or unable to make appointments by themselves in 2014/15.
But the trust has refuted the figure, confirming that it actually spent £20,122 on taxi fares – £10,000 less than suggested.
Mary Fleming, the trust’s director of operations and performance, said: “To guarantee value for money we have negotiated a contract with a local reputable taxi company who is able to transport our patients safely and reliably.
“The patients who access this service have been appropriately triaged to ensure that they are ready to go home and will not require medical support during their journey.
“There have been occasions where, to keep the flow of patients moving through our hospitals, taxis have been provided to ensure our patients leave hospital without further delay. At all times patient safety and positive experience is always at the core of our decisions.”
Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh’s taxi bill ranks much lower than neighbouring St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, which paid over £70,000 in the same year according to HSCIC’s figures.
The NHS is able to pay for private taxis if there is a shortage of patient transport services at the hospital, including ambulances or car drivers.
Lorraine Hesketh, communications manager at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh, insists that patients are not put at risk when being transferred by private taxi. She said: “It is to make sure that our patients are safe. It’s certainly a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Among the high spenders are the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which spent £722,000 on taxis as part of its service to NHS hospitals.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £617,008, while Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £261,338 and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust spent £241,772.
University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust spent £346,857.