Bonus payments to NHS consultants costing the Scottish taxpayer nearly £28 million last year have been frozen for the next 12 months, the Scottish Government has confirmed.
Consultants who qualify for distinction awards can earn up to £75,889 a year on top of their salaries, which can reach £100,446.
The awards are administered by an organisation called the Scottish Advisory Committee for Distinction Awards, a public body whose board is made up entirely of health professionals.
They decide which consultants should be given a reward because of “exceptional personal contributions.”
Once a consultant is granted an award, they are entitled to that payment each year, and although the money is technically awarded to each health board, it is then paid to the individual consultants.
Only one in 12 consultants currently receives an award, by the time of retirement one in three consultants has qualified.
NHS Tayside currently has 71 consultants on the distinction awards scheme, costing £3 million. By comparison, there were only 10 beneficiaries in Fife, taking home an extra £434,000 between them.
In Scotland, there were 578 recipients last year, receiving a total of £27.96 million.Government want changeDistinction awards were introduced when the NHS was founded in 1948, but Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon wants the system changed.
Although it has already reached an agreement with the UK Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body that he awards will remain frozen for a year, she said a complete overhaul is needed.
However, this will need to be done in conjunction with other branches of the NHS in the UK to prevent one country being able to pay more for the best staff.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said, “The Scottish government recognises the significant cost of distinction awards and has already taken action to restrain this.
“We agreed with the UK Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body that the value of the awards this year should remain at the 2009-10 levels.
“This means that there will be no uplift in the value of existing awards to consultants and no net increase in the overall numbers of awards available-a move that will ensure savings of around £2 million.”
The UK department of health announced in August there is to be a UK-wide review of the scheme, which is expected to report back next year.
A spokeswoman for the Taxpayers’ Alliance said some of the money used for these payouts should be diverted to frontline care instead.
She said, “There’s no harm in rewarding performance, but the NHS needs to ensure that it’s getting value from these consultants, who are already very well paid and appear to be calling the shots.
“For too long the public sector has been reliant upon external help, despite consistently increasing their own payroll and hiking executive salaries.
“There needs to be more emphasis on making sure every penny works for the taxpayer, and that means reassessing these hefty payouts with a view to saving money and diverting it to front-line healthcare.”
Photo courtesy of Stewart Lloyd-Jones.