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£51m in pension pots built up by NHS top brass

GOLD-PLATED pension pots worth £51 million have been amassed by health service bosses in Northern Ireland as they preside over the worst waiting list crisis in the entire NHS.

An investigation by The Irish News has found that three of the highest beneficiaries retired in the past year sharing a combined 'pot' of almost £5m - with one heath trust chief due to accrue £2m alone.

Dr Ken Lowry, former medical director of the troubled Northern health trust which has been repeatedly slated over A&E breaches, left his top post last November with a golden handshake of £260,000 - and is on a £90k-a-year pension for life.

Former Ambulance Service chief Dr David McManus is close behind him, leaving his medical director role in the summer with a £1.6m retirement fund.

The top beneficiaries - click to see full image

The north's ambulance service is the grip of a crisis with overstretched crews failing to respond to targets set for 999 call-outs, while poor hygiene standards in vehicles were also recently discovered by a watchdog.

Legislative changes last year led to the threshold before tax is applied on pensions being reduced to £1m. However, senior directors and administrators with packages prior to that date were protected.

Among them is Elaine Way, former chief executive of the Western health trust, who retired in February this year with a lump sum of £172,656 and a £57k annual pension for her 40 years of service.

Serious concerns were raised three years ago as to why Ms Way didn't order an independent inquiry into the north's worst ever cases of abuse of disabled residents in a trust care home.

Harrowing acts of cruelty were carried out by nurses at Ralphs Close in Derry, including that of a worker who "knocked daylights" out of two vulnerable patients for more than a year.

A total of 74 managers employed in a director or 'executive' role across the north's six health trusts, the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency are among those who have accrued the lucrative taxpayer-funded pensions.

Of these, 12 bosses have amassed retirements funds in excess of £1m.

The figures have emerged in the midst of a high-profile campaign by nurses for a pay increase and when record hospital waiting lists have led to pensioners getting loans to travel abroad for hip replacements.

Next month health trusts must also decide on where the axe should fall on patient services as part of a £70m savings plan ordered by the Department of Health.

Nursing home placements, home help packages, fertility treatments and hospital beds are among many services under threat of suspension over the next six months.

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A TRADE union leader last night branded a separate pension scheme used to work out payments for the 'top brass' of health service management as 'unacceptable'.

Patricia McKeown of Unison said the vast majority of workers on the ground are now worse off than a decade ago due to a government pay cap and the imposition of a tax levy on their pensions.

The average pension for a nurse or midwife with 40 years' full-time experience is around £15,500 a year, which is then taxed.

Ms McKeown said that while she recognised there were 'contractual entitlements' over pension payments, she questioned the need for multiple layers of senior administration in the north's NHS that has led to £51m in pension pots being amassed by over 70 health chiefs.

"I do not have a problem with managers with major responsibility being well paid but do we really need a resource at this level with six health trusts, a department, board and agency?" she said.

"When you have a proliferation of quasi-independent trusts there will be duplication. Health trusts were invented by Maggie Thatcher and led to a system where the most senior bosses were given contractual deals with golden parachutes - everything about that is wrong.

"I think it is time that senior managers were brought back into the pay bargaining system in line with other health service workers - to have individually negotiated contracts is not acceptable."

Garret Martin, deputy director of the Royal College of Nursing, also said the latest "extravagant" figures on pension pots will be "deeply frustrating and annoying" for younger nurses who as a result of changes to pension schemes will pay in more but receive less when they retire at 67 or 68.

The union has been at the centre of a high-profile campaign to scrap the one per cent cap on public sector pay rises, with salaries in the north now lagging significantly behind their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales due to the collapse of Stormont.

"While these pay-outs are part of senior directors' pay and conditions, their release will create great disappointment for those nurses who can't get a pay rise and especially those younger staff who must work longer and pay more into their pots while gettting taxed more.

"Ultimately this is a situation about people in the health service getting appropriate pay, especially those frontline line who currently do not feel valued for the work they do."

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THE TOP BENEFICIARIES

Dr Ken Lowry - former medical director, Northern health trust (retired)

Annual pension: £90,000

Lump sum: £260,000

Pension pot: £2m

Elaine Way - former chief executive, Western health trust (retired)

Annual pension: £57,552 (based on 2014/15 annual accounts)

Lump sum: £172,656

Pension pot: £1.3m

Dr David McManus - former medical director, NI Ambulance Service (retired)

Annual pension: £70-75,000

Lump sum: £215-220,000

Pension pot: £1.6m

Dr Tony Stevens - chief executive, Northern health trust

Annual pension: £80,000

Lump sum: £230,000

Pension pot: £1.8m

Dr Charlie Martyn - medical director, South Eastern health trust

Annual pension: £65-70,000

Lump sum: £205-210,000

Pension pot: £1.6m

Dr Dermot Hughes - medical director, Western health trust

Pension and lump sum (no breakdown published): £236,000

Pension pot: £1.3m

Alan Corry-Finn - director of primary care and older people's services, Western health trust

Pension and lump sum (no breakdown published): £200,000

Pension pot: £1.1m

Dr Cathy Jack - medical director of Belfast trust

Pension and lump sum (no breakdown published): £175-180,000

Pension pot: £1.1m

Dr Richard Wright - medical director, Southern health trust

Annual pension: £55-60,000

Lump sum: £170-175,000

Pension pot: £1.1m

Martin Dillon: chief executive, Belfast trust

Pension and lump sum (no breakdown published): £190-195,000

Pension pot: £1m

Dr Michael McBride - chief medical officer for Northern Ireland

Annual pension: £75-80,000

Lump sum: £225-230,000

Pension pot: £1.5m

Sloan Harper - director of integrated care, Health and Social Care Board

Annual pension: £50-55,000

Lump sum: £155-160,000

Pension pot: £1.1m

Sean Donaghy - director of 'e-health' at Health and Social Care Board

Pension: £45-50,000

Lump sum: £145-150,000

Pension pot: £1m

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