NHS Doncaster PCT: NHS trust explains costly trips to study foreign healthcare

MORE than £10,000 of taxpayers' money was spent sending health bosses from a South Yorkshire town on fact-finding trips and public speaking excursions in Canada, Sweden and Norway.

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

The accommodation bill from the waterfront Renaissance Hotel in downtown Vancouver was nearly 3,000, with economy class flights costing the taxpayer a further 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 of the same year, the trust also spent 4,500 sending a team of employees to Norway to learn about "breast-feeding best practice".

Flights to Oslo with KLM cost around 2,000 in total and the team also visited the country's second-largest city, Bergen. Hotel bills totalled around 2,500.

And in September 2009, nearly 800 was spent with Scandinavian 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 that 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 be tested out within the health care system in Doncaster.

"These visits gave us invaluable insights into leading health systems that we are now benefiting from 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 fact-finding trip to a subsequent increase in the number of mothers breast-feeding in the Doncaster area.

"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 to give the children the best start in life."

He also defended the Passion for Life trip to Sweden, saying: "Doncaster's Passion for Life programme is helping residents over 65 to live a healthier lifestyle and stay independent, giving older people the opportunity to take part in a range of activities."