A Birmingham hospital spent £16,000 to pay a PR company for just 20 days work to handle the fallout from a damning report.
Birmingham Children’s Hospital chiefs paid two senior media consultants from LTA Communications £16,387 to protect the honour of the trust when faced with heavy criticism in a Healthcare Commission report a month ago. The money mirrors the annual salary of a junior nurse.
The figures were obtained under a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act inquiry by the Birmingham Post after hospital bosses refused to disclose the figure.
Hospital bosses paid out the equivalent of £86 an hour on the crisis team despite already having three press officers who work full time and have a combined salary of at least £100,000.
The consultants “advised” and managed press interest as the Foundation hospital came under fire for a catalogue of failings from a severe shortage of beds, causing 70 sick children to be turned away every month, and poor staff training which meant theatre nurses could not recognise surgical equipment.
Martin Salter, director of communications at the hospital, said: “LTA Communications assisted our in-house team with the huge amount of interest in the Healthcare Commission report. Their daily rates have been market tested and are considered to be excellent value for money.”
Businessman Ayaz Ahmed, from Moseley, whose baby daughter Alesha died in intensive care after waiting more than two weeks for a bed said: “Spending £16,0000 on spin doctors is a pathetic waste of money when ill children can’t even get a bed they need. There is something fundamentally wrong with the NHS at the moment, no one cares about lives. I could look at the books and tell them exactly how they should be spending their money. They made millions in profit last year yet they want donations for new units and are wasting money like this.”
Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Edgbaston, who initially raised concerns about the hospital, said: “This was a completely inappropriate response. The answer was to admit something had gone wrong and to say how they would put it right, as soon as possible.”
Coun Deirdre Alden, chairman of Birmingham’s Health Scrutiny Committee, said it was “outrageous”.
“Money given to the NHS should be spent on frontline services, not on spin to make a good story,” she said.
The Freedom of Information Act response showed the contract with LTA Communications cost £13,947 plus VAT for two senior consultants for 20 working days from February 25 to March 24.
The FOI also revealed that the hospital spent a further £80,000 on external communications teams and PR consultant over the past two years.
Peter Tomlinson, the former director of communications and fundraising, was paid £62,000 externally to manage a small team and be an ambassador and figurehead for the trust.
A Children’s Hospital spokesman added: “LTA Communications was employed to assist the trust in a time of high media interest surrounding the Healthcare Commission report. They were not specifically brought in to handle the resignation of the chief executive Paul O’Connor, but this did fall within the time that LTA were employed by the trust and so they inevitably had some involvement in the handling of the media enquiries.”
The spokesman said consultants were used in an “advisory capacity but did not provide press officer facilities” even though journalists on the day were told to call LTA Communications for press officer services.