A weekend leadership course for NHS managers costing £1000 per head has been slammed by critics.
And the course is only open to NHS employees who are lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB).
Stonewall, who are running the course, claim that it is necessary because managers in the NHS who are LGB face discrimination in the workplace.
The course, the first of its kind, will take place at Ashridge Business School, a Gothic manor in Hertfordshire, whose website describes it as “regularly triumphing in catering competitions and awards” and having the “highest standards of service and facilities”.
These facilities include heated swimming pool, sauna and steam room, gym, tennis courts, 190 acres of grounds and a croquet lawn.
But Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, claimed that the programme was competitively priced and “not luxurious”.
At a time when major hospitals are announcing cuts and hundreds of job losses, the course has come in for savage criticism.
Emma Boon, campaign director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s unbelievable, given the current climate of cuts, that the Government is spending taxpayers’ money on a luxury junket for managers.”
She added: “It’s questionable whether or not gay and lesbian managers need specific training and marking them out for special treatment like high-end breaks in mansions could even create resentment”.
Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association said: “It’s absolutely shocking that at a time of such austerity in the NHS, when we are hearing about job cuts on a daily basis, and appalling treatment of patients, that officials will spend exorbitant sums on this kind of initiative.”
She went on: “Why is it that when NHS managers get training, they get to stay in luxury surroundings, and enjoy all the trappings and finery?
“This is a totally different world to what goes on in the wards”, she said.
Commenting on the training, a Department of Health spokesman said: “We are funding this programme to create a network of skilled and senior people to promote lesbian, gay and bisexual equality at local and regional levels.”
Responding to criticism about the luxury nature of the accommodation, he said it was the responsibility of Stonewall to identify an appropriate venue within the budget allocated.
Paul Burstow, the health minister, said the programme would give “targeted leadership support” and would cost £36,000.
The Government came under fire from its own backbenchers earlier this year over the cost of implementing the controversial Equality Act 2010.
Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, said that the equality laws were “ludicrous and pointless” and Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, has described them as “divisive”.
Their remarks came as the Government admitted that the overall cost of implementing the legislation over the next year will be £100 million.
And it indicated that the cost to the public sector alone will be £30 million.
Mr Davies described the legislation as “politically correct drivel” that “makes the public’s blood boil”.
Mr Raab remarked: “The Coalition should scale back the Equality Act. The last thing hard pressed public bodies need is this blizzard of extra bureaucracy – wasting their time and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
“It’s not just political correctness”, the MP went on. “It’s also bitterly divisive to carve up our society into artificial social categories.”