Hospital chiefs in St Helens spent over £70,000 on taxis for patients during one year alone, new figures suggest.
The startling figure was revealed in data released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
It relates to the 2014/15 financial year and shows the costs for transferring patients by private taxi when they are too ill, frail or unable to travel to and from appointments by themselves.
However, the £70,000 is relatively small compared to the cost incurred by some hospital trusts, with some larger trusts shelled out more £200,000 per year.
A taxi may be paid for by the NHS if there is a shortage of patient transport services at the hospital, including ambulances or car drivers.
A trust spokeswoman said: “Many of our patients make their way to and from our hospitals.
For those that are unable to do so we provide transport and in most cases this is through North West Ambulance Service and the Welsh Ambulance Service.
“We endeavour to do all we can to ensure that our patients’ needs are met and when these services aren’t available or appropriate and a patient has no other way of coming into hospital for treatment or returning home the use of a taxi is necessary.
“Taxis are mostly used by our Emergency Department, the busiest in the North West, to return patients who arrive in an ambulance, are not required to be admitted to hospital and have no other way of getting home.
“We often rely on taxis to ensure that patients can leave hospital on time, this is cost-effective and ensures our patient flow is unaffected.
“We also arrange transport on behalf of other NHS organisations who are then re-charged by the Trust, these costs are included in our overall figure.
“We closely monitor all transport costs and keep the use of taxis to a minimum.”
Among the high spenders are the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which spent £722,000 on taxis as part of its service to NHS hospitals.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £617,008, while Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £261,338 and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust spent £241,772.
University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust spent £346,857 and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust spent £211,892.
Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said: “There is an exorbitant amount of waste and inefficiency in the NHS and we’ve got to stop it.
“Surely, by putting some time aside for planning patients’ needs, we could use hospital transport far more effectively and not continue to waste money on private taxis?”
Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said: “While taking ill and elderly people to and from hospital in a cab is clearly preferable to making them take the bus or train, taxis are no substitute for an ambulance or a hospital car containing someone who is medically trained.”
Rehana Azam, GMB acting national secretary for public services, said: “The Government keep saying NHS funding is protected, yet sick people are being put in taxis because there are not enough NHS vehicles to safely transport them.”
A spokesman for NHS England said: “For several decades it has been common to contract with non-emergency patient transport providers so as not to tie up ambulances .”