Spending on consultants by the Department of Health and Social Care almost tripled in 2017-18 compared to the previous year, HSJ can reveal.

The department spent £12.4m on consultancy services in 2017-18, which marked a steep rise from 2016-17 – when £4.5m was spent.

More consultants have been needed this year because of “programmes of a short term nature” that require “specialist support not available within the DHSC”, according to its annual report.

This includes spending more than £4m on EY consultants who are working on overhauling the way the NHS buys its goods, equipment and services.

EY’s contract for the work has been estimated to be worth between £8m - £20m overall. The changes are being brought in with the aim of delivering savings worth hundreds of millions of pounds every year for the NHS.

It comes after the department cut hundreds of jobs as part of a drive to reduce running costs by 30 per cent by 2019.

Consultants have also been hired to support the department’s “corporate services improvement programme”.

The accounts also show the rest of the NHS spent £358m on consultancy services in 2017-18, which is £26m less than the previous year.

DHSC spending on temporary agency staffing rose by 54 per cent, from £14.2m in 2016-17 to £21.9m in 2017-18.

It comes at a time when caps have been put in place at NHS trusts to drive down their spending on agency staff.

HSJ has approached DHSC for comment.