THE Health Service Executive spent nearly €700,000 on flights last year, completely undoing efforts to slash airline bills.
Flights purchased for HSE staff in the midst of state financial meltdown included 25 €4,250 seats to Washington and four €2,500 seats to Chicago, according to information obtained by the Sunday Tribune.
Between 2007 and 2008, management had drastically reduced its spend on airfares by 58% from €734,000 to just €308,000. However, last year this decline was completely reversed, and the spend increased by over half to €682,000.
The flights, which are administered by the Business Travel Unit (BTU), are primarily for healthcare professionals attending conferences and meetings, but patients are also given seats where appropriate.
The bump in spending last year resulted from 1,272 individual flights, with destinations including Chicago, Amsterdam, Munich, Stockholm, Budapest, Vienna, Washington DC and Vancouver.
The information was provided on request to a recent meeting of a regional health forum for Dublin and the North East.
Explaining the costs, the HSE said it operated such travel on the basis of "lowest available fare" and that it incorporated "a number of carriers". However, some of the prices were high.
It spent €4,256 each for 25 flights between Dublin and Washington DC, totaling €106,400. There was also a bill for €371,450 on a total of 50 flights from Roanoke in the US, taking in Chicago, Vancouver and Kelowna in Canada, and then from Vancouver to Heathrow and on to Dublin. Each flight worked out at €7,429.
Four flights between Belfast and Chicago cost €2,507 each or €10,030 in total. Another four flights to Stockholm, via Copenhagen, cost €1,342 each or €5,368 in total. Two return flights from Dublin to Frankfurt and taking in Gdansk in Poland cost €1,760 each.
According to the HSE, such travel arrangements are made in accordance with its own policy and that of the Department of Finance to "ensure economic use of resources".
Meanwhile, HSE Dublin and North East spent €937,200 on consultancy fees last year covering projects including hospital reviews, a report on organ retention, reviews of services and strategy development.
Two-thirds of the overall spend went to ad agency Ogilvy & Mather for its work on the 'Let Someone Know' mental health awareness campaign. The HSE said this was part of an overall €900,000 allocation for suicide prevention.