More than £3.5 million was spent by cash-strapped health chiefs on taxi fares and mileage claims last year.
NHS Lothian spent £849,376 – more than most health boards spent in six years – on cabs to ferry staff and patients about, as well as transporting equipment and medical documents such as X-rays and case notes.
A further £2.72m was doled out in mileage claims as bosses admit they are struggling to meet this year’s savings target of £39.4m, with a shortfall of £4m in the first six months.
Jean Turner, a former GP and the executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said the money would be better spent lightening the load on overstretched staff.
She said: “When you think of all the staff or drugs that could be provided with that, it’s a waste. It would be better spent on frontline services rather than ferrying people and things from one place to another.
“They use taxis for carrying notes and even prescriptions, so the taxi bill is going to be high. If we’re looking to save money then I think it would be a good area to look at and see why we’re using them and if it’s really necessary.”
The 12-month taxi bill is more than four times the £198,675.80 spent between September 2009 to August 2010 and is more than NHS Fife, NHS Dumfries and Galloway, NHS Borders and NHS Western Isles each paid between 2007 and 2013.
Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack said more needed to be done to promote sustainable transport such as walking and cycling.
“On the face of it, this seems like an awful lot of money to spend and we need to know more about what kind of journeys it is funding,” she said.
“There will be occasions where patients quite rightly need to get a taxi to access hospital but if the money is being used to ferry senior staff across the region there are surely more efficient means.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “There will always be the need for NHS Lothian staff to use taxis and clock up mileage.
“But we know this is a health board which has allowed senior staff too much leeway in the past when it comes to vehicle expense. So patients are naturally suspicious when they see such high figures.”
A staff travel plan is being drawn up, with management teams across the board being asked to slash ten per cent of what they spend by considering alternative options such as video-conferencing meetings.
George Curley, director of operations and facilities at NHS Lothian, said staff were not encouraged to use taxis and a review was under way to look at transport.
“The amount of money spent includes the transportation of vital equipment and urgent medical supplies as well as staff and patient journeys,” he said.
“NHS Lothian is currently reviewing the way in which staff travel for business and as part of that we are monitoring the use of the current shuttle bus and MPV service, which runs between city sites.”