Huddersfield and Calderdale hospital chiefs have said they were “legally” required to send 14 members of staff to America to evaluate new computer systems.

The claim comes as trade union Unison revealed the 10-day trip, reported in The Examiner last month, cost the hospital £39,102 – a total of £2,518.20 per delegate.

The total is far less than the union’s prediction of £80,000 to £100,000.

Unison dubbed the trip “a scandal” and “a junket” last month when a whistleblower at the hospital revealed that a large group of staff were visiting three sites in the USA.

But hospital chiefs from Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust defended the business the trip as “vital for patient care” as they prepare to spend £18m on new electronic patient record system.

They say the systems at hospitals in New York, Texas and Kansas needed to be seen in action by all the senior clinical staff who will make the decision on which one to buy.

The Trust has said it was duty bound to visit all short listed suppliers of the multi-million pound system to avoid potential legal repercussions.

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in Lindley
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in Lindley
 

American firms, Cerner and Allscripts, are the final two competing for the high value contract having been shortlisted from eight bidders. A contract is due to be signed in early 2015 with the system implemented in mid 2016.

Writing in the Trust’s internal newsletter a spokesman says: “Currently there are no hospitals in the UK using the systems to the advanced level that we intend to use and therefore legally we could not exclude reference sites overseas.

“There are UK hospitals with some elements of these systems and they will also be visited to ensure the systems are fit for purpose within the NHS and our Trust.

“The system will affect the working lives for all our 6,000 colleagues and equally affect the care received by our patients.

“Reference site visits are the only way of seeing these systems in action.”

Unison had previously insisted that the Trust could have visited hospitals in Newcastle and London that were utilising the new systems and claimed the cost of the 10 day trip could have paid for extra nurses.

Gary Cleaver, regional health organiser for Unison in Yorkshire, told The Examiner he stood by the comments that the overseas trip was unnecessary as other UK hospitals were operating at the “Grade 6” level that CHFT aspired to.

And he said he was “seeking assurances” that the £40,000 trip was from a special IT modernisation fund provided by the NHS, as the Trust claimed, after a Freedom of Information (FOI) response said it had been paid for by the hospitals’ own budget.

Mr Cleaver’s FOI has also revealed that most of the 14 that travelled on the trip from September 27 to October 7 had clinical backgrounds.

The Trust has refused to give the names of the directors who travelled but the list reveals that Chief Executive, Owen Williams, did not take part in the business trip.

The itinerary shows the delegation had just one rest day on Saturday, October 4.

The delegation included: the Executive Director of Finance, Clinical Director of Pharmacy (Clinician), Director of The Health Informatics Service, Divisional Director, Children & Women’s Services (Clinician), Divisional Director, Medicine (Clinician), Divisional Director, Surgery (Clinician), Divisional Director, Diagnostics & Therapeutics (Clinician), Consultant Surgeon (Clinician), Clinical Director for Modernisation (Clinician), Programme Director for Modernising Nursing (Clinician), Assistant Divisional Director Diagnostics & Therapeutic Services, Business Manager - Modernisation Programme, Associate Director of Nursing, Medicine (Clinician) and a Matron, Orthopaedics and Surgery (Clinician).