NHS bosses make millions through bonuses and pension schemes

Rip-off 'on the scale of the MPs' expenses scandal'

British A&E accident emergency sign London Hospital UK

While front-line health workers struggle on stagnant incomes, NHS bosses have been pulling in as much as a million a year.

Even the heads of some of the UK's worst-performing hospitals have received bonuses of up to £5,000 a day, according to an analysis by the Daily Mail. Some bosses, meanwhile, are avoiding tax by funnelling their salaries through their own companies.

Others are taking advantage of a system originally put in place to help lower-paid nurses and other NHS workers stay working part-time, making it easier to get by on their pension. But this also allows bosses to take huge pension lump sums early by quietly 'retiring' for a day, working part-time for a month, then returning to their posts full-time.

For example, Peter Herring, chief executive of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, claimed a £252,000 tax-free lump sum by 'retiring' for 24 hours, before returning to his original job. Sue James, chief executive of Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, netted a £155,000 payout by doing the same.

Others quit their pension schemes when their pension pots reach the limit where the tax benefits run out, only to be 'compensated' with a higher salary.

The figures have startled politicians, with government pensions adviser Ros Altmann saying the findings were "on the scale of the MPs' expenses scandal".

On average, top NHS executives enjoyed pay rises of 6% last year, while nurses at the same hospitals have had their pay frozen for the last five years. Sky News calculates that if their pay rises had been kept to 1% - a figure which the government refused to award all NHS workers last year - the NHS could have recruited 1,300 new nurses as a result.

The average salary of an NHS chief executive in England is now £185,250, although 47 are making more than £400,000 a year. The highest-paid was Tricia Hart of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who made as much as £1.26 million last year - even though the trust is currently running a £4.4 million deficit.

Both health secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Labour shadow Andy Burnham have promised to investigate.

"People who do a good job for patients should be paid fairly, but the NHS is a public service and too often high executive pay has been awarded as a matter course, not because of exceptional performance," said Hunt.

And Burnham commented: "This is excessive at a time when we are asking other NHS staff to exercise restraint. There has to be fairness top to bottom in the National Health Service."

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