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Ban on NHS trusts recruiting new highly-paid directors

Richard Pengelly
Seanín Graham

A LEAKED letter has revealed a top NHS civil servant banned the recruitment of high-earning directors in health trusts earlier this year - yet still allowed the re-employment of an official who retired on a £1.4m pension pot.

Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary at the Department of Health, issued the high-level circular in May warning chief executives "not to proceed" with any new senior jobs at "director or assistant director" level due to the "unprecedented" financial crisis.

In what was viewed as a highly unusual move - the Department’s role is to direct policy, not employment - Mr Pengelly notes that any new posts will only be filled in "exceptional circumstances" and where they have been "agreed by the Department in advance".

“Whilst the Department would not expect to be involved directly in approvals for positions below this level, I would expect that the leadership team in your organisations would ensure that the same principle is applied to ensure that we are taking all necessary steps to avoid creating long term commitments, until we have greater clarity as regards the future," he wrote.

Last week the Irish News revealed that Dr Alan McKinney, a former medical director at the Western health trust, was re-appointed to the same organisation as 'associate medical director; after retiring in July, when he received a six-figure lump sum.

The Derry doctor received the third highest 'pension pot' in the entire health service for 2014/15. It is understood he took up his new job within two months of retirement.

When asked by the Irish News if the Western trust's chief executive Elaine Way sanctioned the fresh appointment, and what exactly the job entailed, the organisation refused to answer any questions.

Instead, a statement said: "The Trust does not comment on individual employment matters".

In a hard-hitting response to the story, the Department insisted it was firmly against a 'revolving door' policy but admitted it was "made aware" of Dr McKinney's new job.

A Department spokeswoman last week claimed that it was unable to approve the medic's new 'director' post because it was a job with "clinical responsibilities" and that "approval rested with the trust" - a statement at odds with Mr Pengelly's circular.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in the north described Dr McKinney's re-appointment as "fairly unusual in their experience".

"The College is not aware of the circumstances of this case…but we support good practice principles regarding equality of opportunity in terms of employment and openness and transparency," said Janice Smyth, RCN director.

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