CASH-strapped NHS Lan-arkshire have spent more than £365,000 over the last three years on hospitality.
Some of the money has been used to provide coffee, tea and biscuits and buffets for meetings between NHS staff and ‘external contacts’.
Cash has also been spent on catering for staff retirals, in-house training and development events.
Details of the board’s hospitality budget was given following a Freedom of Information request submitted by our sister paper the Hamilton Advertiser.
And it comes less than two months after NHS Lanarkshire announced they were facing cuts of almost £42 million over the next four years.
Spending is to be cut by £15m this financial year and more efficiency savings are likely in the years to follow.
To balance this year’s budget, NHS Lanarkshire have had to ‘stand down’ 16 surgical beds, controversially withdraw night-time security at Udston Hospital, cut health promotion and public health programmes and slash their drugs bill.
Meanwhile, according to data supplied in response to our FOI, the board’s spending on hospitality was £92,482 in financial year 2007-08, £140,559 in 2008-09, and £132,172 in the 12 months to March 31.
That gives a total hospitality bill over the past three years of £365,213.
A spokesman for NHS Lanarkshire insisted no catering was supplied for internal business meetings.
She added: “Where NHS Lanarkshire welcomes external contacts to meetings, the provision of appropriate catering in the form of beverages and in some instances a buffet lunch may be made available if the meeting/event would last throughout a meal time and attendees do not have the opportunity to access their normal eating arrangements.
“Appropriate catering may also be provided for staff retirals and in-house training and development events.”
She said catering within NHS Lanarkshire accommodation was provided in-house by the NHS Lanarkshire catering departments as the use of a third party supplier is prohibited for food safety reasons.
Requests for hospitality have to be authorised by senior staff, say the board.
NHS Lanarkshire were asked by the Hamilton Advertiser to provide a detailed breakdown of events at which hospitality had been provided.
They say supplying such information would be too costly.
Health bosses have, however, agreed to cut their hospitality budget by £50,000 in each of the next three financial years.
Staff were told there would “tighter controls introduced over hospitality provision”.
East Kilbride MSP Andy Kerr said: “Everyone who is a public servant, elected or otherwise, must ensure that the public purse is well spent. And, whilst there is a role for spending such as this, it clearly needs to be controlled, monitored and reduced, particularly in these difficult economic times.”
John Gallacher, regional organiser for UNISON, said: “All budgets need to be severely managed to protect patient care and we would expect the board’s hospitality budget to be severely scrutinised to make sure money is targeted on medical care and not tea and biscuits.”