More than £15 million has been spent by the NHS in Scotland to meet the cost of taxi fares in recent years. Most health boards have overseen a rise in spending in the past year, with individual fares of up to £370 covered by the resource-strapped service, according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information. There are now calls for a review of patient transport services across Scotland amid opposition claims that some of the cash could be better spent on patient care.
Health boards insist that the “vast majority” of patient journeys are undertaken by the Scottish Ambulance Service, but taxis are used when public transport or the patient transport services are “unsuitable or unavailable.” Tens of thousands of journeys have been undertaken over the past three years to transport patients, as well as case notes, X-rays, blood and specimen samples.
A total of £15.09m has been spent on taxis over the past three years. Although the national total fell by £0.7m to £4.7m in 2017/18, a majority of individual boards are showing an increase in spending. The biggest spender is NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland’s biggest health board, where £6.6 million was paid out over the past three years. Spending did fall by almost £1 million in 2017/18 when £1.6 million was paid out. The next highest was Grampian, where £667,188 was paid out by the health board, an increase on the previous year of £7,000.
Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “This is an extraordinary amount of money to be spent on taxis. “This clearly demonstrates the failure of SNP ministers to provide the resources needed by the patient transport service and the Scottish Ambulance Service to meet the needs of patients travelling to hospital appointments, or return home or to their place of care.
“The fact that health boards across Scotland have spent more than £15 million on taxis just goes to show that demand for patient transport services in Scotland is outstripping supply.”. The Scotsman sought responses from all 14 of Scotland’s area health boards. All but two – Fife and Dumfries and Galloway – provided responses. They show that seven out of 12 who did reply increased their spending on taxis.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said most patient transport is carried out by the ambulance service. But public affairs manager Gordon Robertson added: “There are occasions when the use of taxis is necessary for urgent blood/specimen movement or for patient transport.”