NHS consultants cash in on waiting times crisis

Consutlants are earning thousands in overtime. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Consutlants are earning thousands in overtime. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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SEVEN Lothian consultants have shared an annual NHS pay windfall of more than £1.5 million as they battle to clear huge waiting times.

The number of clinicians taking home pay cheques in excess of £200,000 per year spiralled by 600 per cent in 2012-13, NHS Lothian’s newly-published accounts for the period have shown.

It is believed the handful of doctors accrued £1,510,338 between them largely as a result of topping up their pay by performing extra shifts. For this they are paid triple time, which can equate to roughly £1200 per shift, as part of NHS Lothian’s drive to get waiting times under control.

Doctors’ representatives have defended the payments, ­saying the salaries reflect the consultants’ high skill levels and the years of training needed to reach the top of their ­professions.

However, MSPs have raised doubts over the sums, which clash with the one per cent pay rise afforded to lowly NHS workers this year.

Labour Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary Neil Findlay said health chiefs have questions to answer about the sharp rise in top doctors’ ­salaries.

He said: “If the rationale behind it was to fix the mess they had got themselves in over waiting times then we need to know that the increased spend at the top end of salaries has fixed the problem. But given it was just last week that we heard that waiting list limits are still being breached it seems unlikely.

“There has to be a long-term strategy put in place here, they cannot just throw money at an issue. It’s time to look at the root of the problem and find a solution that works for patients and eases pressures on the hard-working, lower paid ­front-line staff.”

While a consultant’s basic pay is usually between £75,000 and £100,000, up to £25,000 can be added if they have the maximum number of discretionary points, which “reward excellence in service delivery”, while up to £75,000 extra is available in distinction awards, which can be added following a review of their skills.

They have had the chance to make extra cash as a result of NHS Lothian’s drive to treat more patients, with the more senior staff being paid triple the rate of a consultant at the top of the pay scale for overtime. Lower-ranking staff, such as theatre nurses, receive time-and-a-half. They also have the opportunity to top up their pay with private sector work, which is not included in the figures.

It emerged last year that a staffing crisis meant consultant paediatricians and neonatologists were being paid £1800 to perform night shifts at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, which they could sleep through unless they were needed, when the roles could have been performed by a mid-grade doctor.

The British Medical Association defended the £200,000-plus yearly payments.

A spokeswoman said: “Doctors are remunerated for the hours that they work. It takes over 15 years of intensive training to become a consultant. They are highly skilled and their salaries reflect the intensity and responsibility of their work.”

As well as the seven consultants paid more than £200,000, 59 clinicians earned more than £150,000 from NHS Lothian in the year to April.

The health board refused to reveal which departments the doctors earning more than £200,000 a year worked due to data protection rules, but Alan Boyter, NHS Lothian’s HR director, said many of the UK’s leading doctors work in the region.

“The rise in number of clinicians paid over £200,000 is due to a combination of the incremental pay scales which mean they will earn higher salaries year on year, discretionary points and distinction awards and payment for work over and above contacted hours to help reduce waiting times,” he said.

“Doctors’ terms and conditions are set nationally across the UK. This includes waiting list initiative payments, the discretionary points ­system and distinction awards which recognise the ­contribution made by senior doctors to improving services for patients.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “NHS staff are paid in line with nationally agreed contracts which contain provisions to recompense for working overtime, unsocial hours and being on call through various terms and ­conditions. As each contract is specific to different types of staff it is misleading to compare single elements of them.”