Taxpayers foot bill for factfinding visits abroad

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DONCASTER health bosses spent over £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on fact-finding and public speaking trips to Canada, Sweden and Norway.

NHS Doncaster Primary Care Trust spent nearly £5,000 sending three executives on a week-long trip to Vancouver, Canada, in September 2009 to study their healthcare system.

The accommodation bill from the waterfront Renaissance Hotel was nearly £3,000, with economy class flights costing the taxpayer £1,900.

The trust said its executive team was there to study the health system in Vancouver and visit the Ministry of Health in British Columbia.

In May 2009, the trust also spent £4,500 sending staff to Norway to learn ‘breast-feeding best practice’.

Flights to Oslo cost around £2,000 and the team also visited Bergen. Hotel bills were about £2,500.

And in September 2009, nearly £800 was spent with Scandinavia Airways flying an employee to speak at a conference in Sweden about the trust’s Passion for Life programme, which supports older people in the area.

The trust said all the trips had been highly beneficial for the organisation and healthcare had improved for people living in Doncaster as a result.

Chris Stainforth, executive director for finance and commissioning, said: “One of our key strategic objectives over the past four years has been to learn from other organisations, ensuring best practice and innovative ideas are tested within the healthcare system in Doncaster.

“People across the borough now, more than ever, have increased opportunities to a healthy start in life and living healthier for longer.

“For example, the visit to Norway helped us to understand the breast-feeding culture in a country where breast-feeding is not only accepted, but expected.”

Mr Stainforth linked the trip to an increase in the number of breast-feeding mothers in Doncaster.

“Over the last two years, since the visit took place, lessons learnt – such as encouraging longer skin-to-skin contact at birth – have helped us experience an overall increase of 15.6 per cent in the breast-feeding initiation rate, helping Doncaster mums give their children the best start in life.”

He defended the Sweden trip, saying Passion for Life was helping over 65s to live a healthier lifestyle and stay independent.