Calls for end to 'bonuses' for senior doctors as nurses go without pay rise

Hundreds of doctors continue to receive annual 'bonuses' despite the scheme being stopped for new applicants in 2010
Seanín Graham

AROUND £5 million a year is still being paid to senior doctors in 'bonuses' on top of their NHS salaries.

Seven years after the Clinical Excellence Awards were closed to new applications, consultants already part of the scheme continue to receive annual payments of up to £75,000.

Figures collated by The Irish News reveal that more than 460 of Northern Ireland's top consultants and dentists benefited from awards amounting to at least £4.8m a year between 2015 and 2017 for their "exceptional contributions".

It comes as tens of thousands of frontline NHS workers are protesting against a one per cent government cap on their wages and against of backdrop of 1,200 unfilled nursing jobs in the north alone.

The bonuses range from almost £3,000 to £75,000 a year, with recipients including the north's chief medical officer Michael McBride - who is receiving an annual £46,644 in addition to his £215,000 salary.

Doctors are entitled to the payments annually until they retire. They are reviewed only once every five years, but medics are rarely stripped of them.

Breedagh Hughes, director of the Royal College of Midwifery, last night called on the Department of Health to publish the total annual spend by the health service on the programme in the interests of transparency and a time of severe austerity.

The Irish News asked the department more than a week ago to provide the bill but it was unable to so.

A list of doctors' names is published on the department website along with the level of the award, but the actual money is not specified and the total spend not given.

Such was the concern about the payments that former UUP health minister Michael McGimspey stopped all new applications from 2010 during a public pay freeze.

However, those who received payments prior to 2010 have continued to do so, with health ministers stating they were "contractually obliged" to sanction them.

Former Sinn Féin health minister and northern party leader Michelle O'Neill last night described the awards as unacceptable.

"To pay doctors clinical excellence bonuses that are quite significant amounts of money at a time when nurses can't achieve a one per cent pay increase is just not acceptable," Ms O'Neill said.

"It's always been our position that we don't agree with the bonuses being paid to consultants, we just don't think it's appropriate particularly at a time when nurses are struggling and vacancies can't be filled and training courses are being cut."

Breedagh Hughes, director of the Royal College of Midwifery, said that your salary should "reflect the work you do".

"These bonuses to doctors are continuing at a time when there is a one per cent cap on the public sector. In Northern Ireland because we have no government no pay award will be granted at all. Our pay is now the worst in the entire NHS.

"Meanwhile we have midwives carrying out internationally recognised research and who have won national awards - but they just get on the with the job they do and are not seeking extra payments."

The British Medical Association, the biggest union representing doctors, refused to comment after The Irish News asked if the payments were justifiable in the current economic climate.

Six years ago the BMA sought a judicial review of Mr McGimpsey's decision, arguing that the awards were recognition of clinical excellence and should not be considered payment.

Dr John D Woods, BMA chair, has previously said that the withdrawal of the awards to new recipients made the north a "less attractive place to work" for consultants.

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