A total of £350m was spent by the NHS on hiring management consultants in England during 2008, figures have shown.
The spending was branded "utterly shocking" by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which obtained the data using freedom of information legislation. The RCN said it was particularly hard to swallow at a time when the health system was being asked to make savings as part of the latest Budget from Chancellor Alistair Darling.
RCN chief executive Peter Carter said £273m of the cash spend was not related to patient care. This is the equivalent of 330 fully-staffed 28-bed medical wards, 9,160 experienced staff nurses or 267,647 bed days in an intensive baby care unit.
Provision for setting up competition within the health service and the support of bids for Foundation status by NHS trusts accounted for the bulk of the money, he said.
Market testing took up 39% of the cash to management consultants so providers and commissioners could select the most profitable solutions in the NHS marketplace, according to the RCN. A total of 23% went on supporting applications for foundation status, 13% to "provider separation" and 12% to advice on the Private Finance Initiative.
The Department of Health said: "All spending and investment are subject to independent audit – £350m equates to less than half a percent of total NHS expenditure for the last financial year."
"That's a badly-worded and leading question – the money is spent by individual trusts, not 'the government' and it's impossible to say whether it's well spent or excessive without knowing the outcome of the projects it was spent on" – Mick James, London