Health chiefs have been attacked for wasting taxpayers’ money after an investigation found that the Welsh NHS overspent on fruit and vegetables by as much as £350,000 – including £104,000 on bananas.
A snapshot of four random months in 2013 and 2014 found that the health service in Wales could have overspent by as much as £358,869.68 for bananas, apples, cucumbers, potatoes and salad as part of a four-year contract with suppliers.
It includes a potential £104,726.48 overspend on bananas, a £75,460.32 overspend on a box of 40 potatoes and £17,507.69 on cucumbers.
In one case Aneurin Bevan Health Board, which covers two major hospitals in Newport and Abergavenny, overpaid by as much as £43,000 on fruit and vegetables in one year including £13,000 on bananas.
Call for probe into spending irregularities
The 2010-14 contract for most Welsh health boards stipulated that prices for fresh fruit and vegetables should be two per cent above average monthly market prices.
But in April 2014, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, Cardiff and Vale and Cwm Taf University Health Boards paid 94 per cent above published market prices for cucumbers.
A typical 18kg box of bananas was priced at £11.88 in December 2013 according to the Fresh Produce Journal, but four health boards paid £19.80 per box while another paid £21.25.
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board used 141 boxes of bananas that month, equating to an overpayment of £1,083.22.
The Welsh Conservatives, who submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Welsh NHS, have now urged the Wales Audit Office to probe irregularities in spending by the seven health boards.
Figures raise ‘serious questions’
Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM said: “These figures show how the Welsh NHS is paying hundreds of thousands of pounds above market rates for everyday fruit and vegetables, meaning less money to spend on patients and hardworking staff.
“These figures raise serious questions about the measures in place to monitor what hospitals pay for food and whether agree contractual prices are adhered to for the full four-year term.
“The Welsh NHS continues to suffer from Labour’s legacy of record-breaking budget cuts and can ill-afford to pay way over the odds for food procurement.
“This study raises serious questions about value for money in the Welsh NHS and public sector procurement and I look forward to the Wales Audit Office undertaking a thorough investigation.”
In response, a spokesman for the NHS Wales Shared Services said: “NHS Wales procurement practice considers wider aspects than simply the lowest price including food safety, ethical and responsible sourcing and a high level of customer service to ensure that the contract fulfils our requirement to provide circa 7,800,000 patient meals per year.”
The overall figures did not include Powys Teaching Health Board, which has no major hospitals, and Hywel Dda Health Board which breaks its figures down by counties.