Figures show the NHS spent £350m last year hiring management consultants in England.
According to figures obtained by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) under the freedom of information legislation, £273m of the money spent was not related to patient care and instead was used to set up competition in the health service and support bids for foundation status.
The RCN said the spending is "utterly shocking", particularly at a time when the health service is being asked to make massive cost cuts.
A total of 39% of the money spent was devoted to market testing designed to help providers and commissioners select the most profitable solutions in the NHS marketplace.
A further 23% was spent supporting applications for foundation status.
RCN chief executive Peter Carter said the money spent was equivalent to 330 fully-staffed 28-bed medical wards, 9,160 experienced staff nurses or 267,647 bed days in an intensive baby care unit.
The RCN believes that the total amount spent could be even higher as 40% of the NHS organisations it contacted did not provide details of their spending within the legal deadline.
The Department of Health said: "All spending and investment are subject to independent audit, but £350m equates to less than half a percent of total NHS expenditure."
"What an appalling waste of money. As an RN having just moved to Cornwall as I could not afford to live near London where my husband works, I find it totally miserable. Nursing work in Devon/Cornwall is hard to find; however, a friend lets me know that the admin staff within the NHS (of which she is one) get a band 5 wage with no qualifications, and her manager receives more than my husband who is an academic/consultant surgeon! Who is still struggling to gain a permanent contract, is this what the UK will continue to do to their medical/nursing staff, while funds are being so badly managed, if so we do not stand a chance to say nothing of the future state of patient care!" - Jules Grange, Cornwall
"I think this kind of allocation of funding is utterly appalling at a time when posts are going unfilled and pay rises are being frozen. It doesn't make you feel valued at the front line at all unless you are generating income" - Lynda Gannon, Cambridgeshire