Anger after £1m spent on hospital art

NEARLY £1million has been spent on art for the region's hospitals in the last four years, according to new figures.The disclosure was made as redundancies and cuts are hitting hospitals in the wake of the NHS struggle with multi-million pound debts.

NEARLY £1million has been spent on art for the region's hospitals in the last four years, according to new figures.

The disclosure was made as redundancies and cuts are hitting hospitals in the wake of the NHS struggle with multi-million pound debts.

More than £610,000 has been spent on art in the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) area since 2002, and more than £320,000 in Essex.

But it is thought the actual figures could be higher as the last two years' expense only represents data supplied voluntarily by trusts.


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Last night, the trusts were criticised for spending any money on art when they are so cash-strapped - but they stressed none of the expenditure would have been funds destined for patient care.

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for west Suffolk, said: “I think all of us are agreed that hospitals need to be as pleasant looking as possible and I know that in some instances hospitals encourage people to give paintings or display schoolchildren's art.

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“But at a time when the NHS in Suffolk is in the most dire financial crisis, the last thing we should be doing is commissioning art.

“This is a luxury that, when nurses are being sacked and wards are being closed, we could do without.”

Roy Gray, chairman of Felixstowe Save Our Hospitals Action Group (SOHAG), which is fighting against the planned closure of the town's Bartlet Hospital, said: “I think patients appreciate art and it is good that outside sources are funding it. But the money could be more wisely spent on paying off some of the debts, or helping elderly and underprivileged patients.”

The figures were revealed after Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, asked a Parliamentary Question.

The written answer showed that nearly £20m has been spent on art in hospitals in England over the four years, with £4.1m paid out in the last year.

Supplying the data was mandatory up to the 2003-4 financial year but voluntary for trusts afterwards, as part of an initiative to reduce bureaucracy in the NHS.

Around half of the expenditure each year was funded by sources external to the NHS, including charities, health minister Andy Burnham said .

Mr Webb said: “If millions are being spent unnecessarily on art projects, how many more millions are being wasted elsewhere in the NHS instead of being spent on frontline patient care?”

A spokeswoman for the East of England SHA - now covering Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire - said: “It is not appropriate for us to comment on the funding of art in NHS trusts. Each NHS trust board is responsible for the budget of the trust and therefore decides how the budget is spent.”

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said it had spent between £8,000 and £9,000 on art in the last five years.

But she said: “This is money that is not out of patient care budgets. This is charitable money which very, very clearly could not be spent on patient care. It has been donated or fundraised for a specific purpose, which is art work in hospital.”

She said a sculpture nicknamed “the dancers” had cost £8,500 from the hospital's charitable trust funds. The rest of the money spent went on framing and live performance art.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Much of the money spent on art and art projects comes from charities, not taxpayers, and this money can only be spent on art, not patient care.

“The NHS spends money on art projects which help to make environments like maternity units and hospices more homely for people in pain; this money also pays for teenage cancer patients to do art projects to keep them occupied while they recover.

“To put this into context, the amount spent on art projects by the NHS in 2005-6 is around 0.0025% of the NHS budget for that year.”

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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