Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) spent more than £26 million on maintaining grounds and gardening services in 2013-14 despite a huge budgetary black hole.
The figures were calculated by the Tax Payers’ Alliance (TPA) who said that 43 hospital trusts in England could save £50,000 or more if they stopped the overspend and paid the average market rate. Four hospital trusts could save more than £200,000 a year – the equivalent of almost 10 nurses on starting salaries.
Using data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, a Department of Health agency, the TPA discovered huge disparities in costs, providing opportunities for NHS Trusts – who are always pressing for more money – to cut back.
The University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust is paying more than £500,000 more than the average across the rest of the health service, leading researchers to point out the significant savings which could be made by the organisations which together have managed an overspend of £6.8 million – the equivalent of 224 nurses.
And Liverpool Heart and Chest NHS Foundation Trust paid the most per m² of grounds and gardens maintained at £4.30 – compared to a median cost of £0.52 per m2 despite the North West having the third lowest employment rate in the country.
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “We constantly hear about a cash crisis facing the NHS but it is clear there are still plenty of administrative savings to make. Bringing down the gardening bill is a perfect example of the kind of efficiencies the Health Service needs to make so that we can balance economic reality with the need to protect front-line care. Those Trusts that are paying over the odds need to go back to the drawing board and trim these bills down to size.
“Every penny spent on the NHS has to go into patient care.”
According to the NHS careers website, the roles of gardeners and groundstaff includes, looking after plants growing outside of buildings and in and around car parks, lopping trees, mowing lawns, and planting and weeding borders. They may be involved in the cultivation of new plants and shrubs. In addition to maintaining existing gardens and grounds they might be involved in (for example) designing a quiet garden where patients can relax. They may work on more than one site, depending upon the employer.
Requirements vary between different employers, but candidates usually need a specific skill and/or vocational qualification (e.g. in gardening or horticulture), such as a Royal Horticultural Society certificate, relevant QCF or BTEC qualification.