There is significant variation in the use of management consultancy this financial year by primary care trusts, information collected by HSJ reveals.

Data gathered through Freedom of Information Act requests suggests some PCTs have significantly reined in their spending.

HSJ received replies from 129 out of 152 PCTs on their levels of spending on management consultancy during 2008-09, 2009-10 and so far in this financial year.

The overwhelming majority of PCTs used management consultants in previous years - spending on average just over £1m each a year. But by the end of May or June this year 35 said they had spent nothing on consultants.

In total HSJ’s data shows the 129 PCTs spent nearly £135m on consultancy during 2008-09 and £148m during 2009-10 - an average of £12m a month.

By the end of May or June during the present financial year the PCTs had collectively spent just £9.4m.

However, the data showed significant variation across PCTs, with 14 revealing spending of £50,000 or more a month so far this financial year, and six of those spending an average £100,000 a month.

Last October the previous government pledged to begin collating and publishing overall expenditure by NHS organisations on management consultancy each year. However, it set no limits on spending, saying it believed individual organisations should continue to manage and monitor their expenditure on consultants.

The six PCTs spending the most in the early months of 2010-11 were NHS Lambeth, NHS Portsmouth, NHS Surrey, NHS West Sussex, NHS Bury and NHS Peterborough.

NHS Portsmouth - along with Bury - was also among the top spenders in previous years, paying £2.5m to management consultants in 2008-09 and £3.3m in 2009-10.

NHS Portsmouth chief executive Tracy Sanders admitted the consultancy spending appeared high but said this was down to a number of “exceptional” one-off projects, including work on a community health campus and “considerable work” needed on the commissioner-provider split.

She said: “As a commissioning only organisation now, I’m confident that our future consultancy costs will be considerably less.”

The Commons health committee said last year that the NHS spent £300m-£350m a year on management consultants, of which 43 per cent was spent by PCTs.

King’s Fund senior policy researcher Chris Naylor said that some PCTs had “struggled” to use external support effectively.