Campaign to end ‘lifetime’ NHS Consultant Bonuses gains support

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott calls for an end to NHS consultant bonuses and BBC investigation uncovers a loophole for poor performance and backing for abolishing the bonuses.

During the 2010 General Election, I campaigned to scrap unfair, ‘lifetime’ bonuses within NHS Tayside.  I welcome the widening of the campaign to end the bonus culture within the NHS.

The Merit and Distinction awards are only available to the highest paid NHS staff, consultants, as part of their standard contract.  Shockingly, these are not one-off bonuses, but are added to consultants’ salaries, year after year, until they retire.  The NHS even increases their pension contributions accordingly.

It is expected that between 1/3 and 1/2 consultants will receive one of these bonuses during their career, worth up to £70,000 per year on top of their normal salary.  No such bonuses are available to other vital NHS staff such and nurses, junior doctors, cleaners or porters.  This is completely unfair and unjustified.

I am therefore delighted that the campaign is gaining wider support and the pressure continues to be applied.

Tavish Scott MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, recently called for an end to consultant bonuses, saying:

“The [Scottish] Health Secretary is responsible for awarding £30 million of bonuses to the most highly paid personnel in the NHS – consultants.

“The payment of these bonuses is a totally devolved issue. There should be no payouts next year. People will find it an odd priority for the SNP to pay out £30 million in bonuses to those who are already the highest paid, while nurses are losing their jobs.”

Meanwhile, the issue is also creating waves in England, with a BBC investigation finding that a loophole means the bonuses continue to be paid, even when the consultants perform poorly:

Professor Alan Maynard, an expert in health policy at York University, was chairman of a local NHS trust for 12 years during which time he sat on the committee that handed out the awards. He said:

“They never get stopped, once they have them they have them for their lifetime. The system needs completely changing.

“The applicants provide very little information, but you can’t spend the money on anything else as it is earmarked for these awards. I would have preferred to spend it on providing more care.”

He said the evidence for performance-related pay was questionable anyway, but if there was to be an incentives scheme it should be much tougher.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, agreed, saying:

“I think they are out of step with how the NHS should be paying staff. They should be abolished.”