NHS trusts spent more than £1.2m on average on consultancy fees
Spending by NHS trusts in England on management consultants has more than trebled in two years, figures suggest.
A report by GP magazine Pulse found that average spending on consultancy fees had risen from £361,000 in 2006-7 to more than £1.2m last year.
Pulse gathered data from 62 of the 152 NHS trusts in England responsible for managing local services.
Doctors said the sums were concerning, but managers said consultants could provide value for money.
The spending by primary care trusts (PCTs) has been revealed as the health service is preparing to make a series of budgetary cuts to cope with the squeeze in public sector spending predicted for the next few years.
PCTs control three-quarters of the NHS budget as they are in charge of funding and managing everything from local hospitals to district nursing.
The trusts told Pulse the money had been spent on supporting the setting up of polyclinics - super-surgeries which are being set up in every area on the say so of ministers - and projects covering issues such as IT and monitoring performance.
The main firms used were McKiney, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Tribal Consulting.
But Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association, said: "It is extremely concerning that such large sums are being spent on management consultants in the absence of any evidence of their effectiveness."
The highest spending PCT was Tower Hamlets in London, which paid out £5.7m in fees last year - eight times more than it did two years previously, according to the figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The trust said the spending had helped improve diabetes training and led to more flexible GP opening hours.
A spokesman added: "These projects have played an important part in our continuing process of improvement.
"The expenditure on management consultancy is less than 1% of the total PCT budget and has already been reduced in the current financial year as projects have finished and become live."
Michael Sobanja, of the NHS Alliance, which represents PCTs, said: "It is wrong to assume spending on consultants is always a waste of money.
"It makes sense to buy in expertise when it is needed rather than employing people all year round, paying for holidays and national insurance contributions, when you may not need them. The important thing is to get value for money.
"The figures may seem high, but many of these organisations are operating with budgets of £500m. It has to be seen in context."
A Department of Health spokesman added: "Individual NHS organisations decide how best to invest their resources to ensure local people get the best possible care and services.
"We expect organisations to consider value for money and patients' interest in all aspects of their expenditure."