Trust defends expenses bill

HEALTH bosses have handed over £159,000 in on-the-job-expenses to financial experts called in to help balance the books at the DGH.

Last December the Herald published details of a Freedom of Information request which revealed East Sussex Healthcare Trust splashed out a mammoth £4,105,605 on outside consultants between December 2010 and November 2011.

Now a subsequent investigation has found that of that sum around £2m was paid to just one firm, the financial experts Ernst & Young.

And the trust, which also runs the Conquest at Hastings, has an agreement to pay Ernst & Young staff expenses up to the value of 7.5 per cent of its base fee. So far that has worked out at around £160,000 and will have gone toward food, accommodation and travel costs.

And the Herald has been told by local taxi drivers there have even been instances of consultants being ferried to and from Brighton for lunch because they did not like the local restaurants.

The trust could not confirm or deny this, but said it was likely any extra or unreasonable cost would be passed on to the firm itself, rather than the tax payer.

However, that did little to pacify local health campaigner Liz Walke, of Save the DGH, who reacted angrily to the news.

She said, “This is an absolute disgrace. How many doctors’ and nurses’ salaries would that have paid for?

“The campaign team is extremely worried as to how East Sussex Healthcare Trust is spending our money.

“What is this money being spent on exactly? Probably on what would be termed as ‘savings’ by cutting services.

“The financial directors are one of the highest-paid management posts in the trust, so why are we paying for extra expertise as well?

“What are the employed management departments paid for?

“We are told savings of £100m are needing by the trust and they will likely axe some services. Why oh why then, are they spending money they haven’t got?

“We need a guarantee front-line staff and services will not be cut as a result of finances. This practice of using costly management consultants has to stop.

“The trust needs to take responsibility for its running and if they can’t do it, step aside for people who can. Enough is enough.”

The trust, though, defended the decision to recruit consultants to try and wrestle its finances under control.

A spokesman said, “The trust is a large and complex organisation with a turnover of £360m and over 7,500 staff working out of more than 130 locations.

“This year (2011/12) we have been looking to make quality and productivity improvements of £3m and for the next financial year we will be required to make further substantial efficiency improvements.

“This is an extremely challenging situation when demand for services is increasing, with an ever-aging population, and the cost of drug therapies, treatment, equipment and utilities also increasing.

“We sought external expertise from Ernst & Young to help identify quality and productivity improvements in the short and longer term to make the trust financially sustainable.

“Following their work, and that of others in the trust, along with additional support from our commissioners we are now on course to break even this financial year.

“This expertise does come at a cost but their assistance will help us achieve our longer-term goal of financial and clinical sustainability.

“Ernst & Young’s expenses are capped at 7.5 per cent of their base fee with the trust which is part of their standard contract and predominantly consists of standard fare rail travel, accommodation and subsistence.

“Any non-essential expenses are borne by Ernst & Young and not passed onto the trust.”