NORTHERN Devon Healthcare Trust has been criticised for spending more than £25,000 on tea and biscuits during the last financial year. The Trust spent £23,277 on Sodexo hospitality catering at North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple between April 20

NORTHERN Devon Healthcare Trust has been criticised for spending more than £25,000 on "tea and biscuits" during the last financial year.

The Trust spent £23,277 on Sodexo hospitality catering at North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple between April 2009 and April 2010. It also paid a local sandwich company £1,698 to cater for five meetings, and a spent £213 holding two meetings at a local hotel.

The information was revealed in a Freedom of Information request to the Trust by a former NHS employee.

"It certainly came as a complete shock to me when I found out how much was being spent," said Trevor Brydges, from Langtree, near Torrington.

"It seems excessive and I just don't think it is appropriate in this day and age; everyone is concerned about the state of the NHS at the moment and at the number of jobs that are going to be lost.

"That amount of money would at least pay for a couple of part-time workers. I mean, come off it, if a few teas and biscuits are going to cost someone their job they are certainly not essential.

"I used to work for a large NHS Trust in South London and it always used to be a bee in my bonnet at how often tea and biscuits were ordered for low key meetings involving just half-a-dozen-or so staff.

"In my experience, refreshments are ordered for the majority of local internal hospital meetings; I think this should be looked at among a number of other cost-cutting measures."

Hospital workers' union Unison has also condemned the Trust's catering spend.

Spokesperson Anne Mitchell, said: "There are far better uses of NHS money.

"Promises about the NHS being ring fenced from any proposed public spending cuts are being blown out of the water and the Trust need to make sure that every penny its spends is in the best interest of the patients."

A spokesperson for Northern Devon Healthcare Trust confirmed the majority of the catering budget was spent in-house with Sodexo.

Of the £23,277, £11,000 was spent on staff tea and coffee, money the Trust said it recouped from staff wages. A further £6,500 was spent by the Peninsula Medical School on catering for junior doctors and lecturers, money recovered through student funding.

Room hire and refreshments for staff training sessions accounted for £3,000, while the remaining £2-3,000 was spent on extra tea, coffee and baby milk for patients on the wards.

"In addition, we provide basic refreshments for meetings such as the board and medical advisory committee, which are all out of office hours," said head of communications Katherine Allen.

On Friday, Unison voiced its concern over the proposed privatisation plans for the NHS which it estimates could result in 40,000 job cuts in England alone.

Job losses planned so far this year have topped 11,000, the latest of which were announced at the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust where 600 posts are to go as part of a bid to save £60million over three years.

This week, a spokesperson for Northern Devon Healthcare Trust told the Gazette the Trust was still unsure of the impact the Government spending cuts would have on jobs in North Devon.

"The White Paper is still very new and there is a lot of detail still to come," said head of communications Katherine Allen.

"The only thing we can be certain of is that we will be asked to save money but we do not know how that is going to translate yet."

She said the Trust was holding around 40 meetings throughout August and September to ask front line staff about any ideas they have to help the Trust to run more efficiently.

"As a Trust, we will have to think differently and it is likely that people's jobs are going to change," added Mrs Allen. "That is why we are currently undertaking a massive staff engagement exercise to ask front-line staff their ideas about how we can play out part in the Government savings.