Five billion pounds of taxpayers’ money could be saved by the NHS every year but health bosses are accused of “bullying” when they try to clamp down on waste, The Telegraph has been told.
Complaints of harassment from junior staff have led to a “reluctance” among managers to enforce widespread savings across the health service, a senior NHS source revealed.
It comes as Boris Johnson faces pressure to insist on sweeping NHS reforms as the price of a £12 billion tax hike on millions of workers.
MPs fear that the money could be squandered on a bloated NHS bureaucracy, and on outdated and wasteful procurement.
Analysis by The Telegraph reveals that the NHS is spending tens of millions of pounds on paracetamol, aspirin and other over-the-counter drugs, as well as prescriptions for toothpaste, mouthwash and Gaviscon heartburn relief.
Earlier this week, The Telegraph reported that the NHS is hiring an army of 42 new managers on salaries of up to £270,000.
‘At least £5bn a year being wasted’
The senior source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at least £5 billion every year - nearly half of the money raised by Mr Johnson’s tax hike - was currently being wasted across the health service.
“Getting a grip on the money means managing people effectively, but in some parts of the system, there’s a reluctance to do it,” the source said.
“If you look at staff satisfaction surveys, you’ve got bullying and harassment at a ridiculously high level. And when management start to ask people to find ways of saving money, people throw their hands up and say, ‘Oh, you know, I’m being bullied’.
“So there is sometimes a reluctance to push people, managerially.
“We could save £5 billion by tightening up on waste, certainly. We can do more with what we’ve got. The main problem is our labour productivity - bringing the underperformers up to the standards of their really brilliant colleagues.
“Some of our hospitals are allowed year after year to languish. Other healthcare systems - the Germans or French or the Americans - are more intolerant of shortcomings, more intolerant of quality failure, and more intolerant of bad use of resources.”
In 2015, a major review of the NHS led by Lord Carter of Coles found that £5bn a year could be saved annually by smarter procurement of hospital supplies and better staff management.
Meanwhile, analysis by The Telegraph revealed that prescriptions for over-the-counter painkillers cost the NHS at least £120m last year, despite a push to stop GPs dishing out drugs for everyday illnesses.
Paracetamol was the biggest spend among everyday painkillers, with the health service paying out £79m in prescriptions in 2020/21, according to statistics published by the NHS Business Services Authority.
Figures show that the NHS is paying nearly three times as much for paracetamol tablets than shoppers pay over the counter - around 3p per tablet compared to 1.2p.
In 2018, NHS England issued new guidance aiming to cut the amount of over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol prescribed by GPs for less serious health concerns. Conditions on the prescription blacklist include colds, minor pain such as headaches and aches, indigestion, and sore throats.
Yet the NHS spent £17m last year on Gaviscon, an antacid product used to relieve heartburn and indigestion - one of the conditions covered in the 2018 change to guidance. Products from toothpaste brand Colgate cost a total of £10m, while prescriptions for Corsodyl mouthwash tallied to more than £500,000.
Included in the NHS’s overall spending on paracetamol were several branded products, with spending on Calpol coming in at £94,726.
An NHS spokesperson said: “We have already curbed prescriptions on a host of products including bath oils, dandruff shampoo and paracetamol, which alongside other efficiency measures has freed up hundreds of millions of pounds.
“England has one of the most efficient health services in the world, with administrative costs of less than 2p in every pound of NHS funding, compared to 5p in Germany and 6p in France.”