The NHS spent £350m on external management consultants in the last financial year, according to an RCN survey.
According to the Freedom of Information Act survey, obtained from 240 NHS organisations in England, nearly £273m of this was not related to direct patient care.
This equates to the cost of 330 fully staffed medical wards each with 28 beds, or 9,160 experienced staff nurses.
These figures show the NHS is the fourth largest user of external consultancy and reducing the money spent on external management consultancy could deliver 11% of the expected reduction in government health spending announced in the 2009 budget.
RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: ‘These figures are utterly shocking when you consider the difference this money could have made to patients.
‘A very significant sum of money is clearly being spent on setting up competition in the NHS and pursuing foundation status, rather than being invested in patient care. You only have to look at what happened at the Mid Staffordshire foundation trust to see the consequences of this.’
More than 40% of organisations failed to respond within the deadline required by law and the RCN is currently pursuing these organisations for full disclosure of their spending.
It is also calling for explanations about why the information was not available.
Mr Carter added: ‘The RCN believes that the full expenditure may be considerably higher, and we will be pursuing all NHS organisations to reveal the full extent of this expenditure. No NHS organisation should be allowed to exclude itself from proper scrutiny.’