Published: 27/03/2003, Volume II3, No. 5848 Page 9

The Department of Health's overseas commissioning unit has denied claims that private planes chartered to take English patients to France cost£30,000.

Newspapers this week slammed the arrangements to fly 60 Plymouth Hospitals trust patients to France for operations by privately chartered jet as a 'waste' of NHS money.

But a trust spokesperson said the flights - and treatment package - were organised by the commissioning unit and funded through additional DoH funds after a successful trust bid. 'None of the costs are footed by the hospital, ' she said.

And a spokesperson for the commissioning unit said the cost of the entire package, including travel and clinical care, 'compared very favourably' with the cost of spot purchasing the care at a UK private hospital.

'The cost of the charter flights purchased for Plymouth compared favourably with the cost of a standard commercial flight and was less than a third of the figure quoted in the press.'

Chartering its own flights allowed more control over seating, with all patients given aisle seats. It also meant that Exeter airport, situated relatively near to Plymouth, could be used, he added.

But he refused to confirm the actual price paid, citing commercial confidentiality.