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Patient safety chief insisted the £562 taxpayer-billed helicopter lesson was crucial for his job

The head of a flagship patient safety unit billed taxpayers for helicopter lessons – and insisted they were part of his job.

Keith Conradi flew a lightweight helicopter over the Cotswold Hills for a day in January last year at a cost of £562.

The training enabled him to retain his private helicopter licence which he claimed was necessary for his NHS role.

Mr Conradi earns £142,000 a year as chief investigator at the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch (HSIB), which is tasked with investigating the most serious medical errors so the NHS can learn lessons and prevent them happening again.

Keith Conradi, chief investigator of  the NHS’ Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch, flew a lightweight helicopter over the Cotswold Hills for a day in January last year at a cost of £562

The body became operational amid much fanfare in April 2017. However, it had begun preparatory work months earlier and Mr Conradi was appointed to his role in 2016.

He was chosen by Jeremy Hunt on the basis of his experience as a pilot and an airline investigator. The Health and Social Care Secretary wants the NHS to learn lessons from the airline industry, which is renowned for its safety record and rigorous investigations.

Mr Conradi, 56, argued that this entitled him to bill the taxpayer for retaining his private helicopter licence. Incidentally, he already holds an airline transport licence.

He also used his government procurement card to pay for a full pilot’s medical examination at Gatwick Airport in February 2017, at a cost of £234.

Following the Daily Mail’s inquiries, however, Mr Conradi was ordered to pay the money back by the health service’s financial watchdog, NHS Improvement. A spokesman for the HSIB said the reimbursement were ‘in process’. Officials at NHS Improvement and the Department of Health were understood to have been furious that he had used taxpayers’ money for the helicopter lessons.

Mr Conradi – a former Virgin Atlantic pilot – previously worked as a chief inspector at the Air Accidents Investigations Branch.

He lives with his wife Katherine in Wrecclesham, near Farnham, Surrey.

In a statement, he said: ‘I am proud to be at the forefront of the first organisation in the world to be creating a pioneering safety investigation methodology for the NHS that matches that of the air industry.

‘This will save lives and reduce patient harm in future years because HSIB learning and patient safety recommendations will be widely shared across NHS service providers in England.’