LONDON (Reuters) - The Department of Health was in such a hurry to push through new consultants’ contracts that it raised their pay without securing any extra work from them, a parliamentary committee said on Thursday.
The Committee of Public Accounts said in a critical report that millions of pounds had been poured into new pay deals without any increase in productivity.
“Anyone who is puzzled how large quantities of money can be poured into the NHS to so little effect should examine the example of the new contract for consultants,” Committee Chairman Edward Leigh said.
In 2003, the department agreed the first major revision of the consultants’ contract in 50 years. But it greatly increased consultants’ salaries in England (on average by over a quarter) without securing any extra productivity from them, he said.
“Worse than that: their productivity has actually decreased, with consultants spending less time working for the NHS and each one carrying out less activity,” he added.
The new contracts saw consultants’ pay rise on average by 27 percent, from 86,746 pounds to 109,974 pounds, while their hours fell, the committee’s report said. An additional 715 million pounds was allocated to the department over the first three years.
The contracts were supposed to make NHS work more attractive to consultants rather than private practice.
It was also intended to give employers greater control and management of their consultants’ workload and to deliver a more responsive service for patients.
The number of consultants working in the NHS has increased from 28,750 in 2003 to 31,990 in 2005, but the number of hours consultants work in private practice has not changed significantly, the committee said.
“In the event, the introduction of the deal was rushed, with NHS managers left in the dark by the Department of Health over what it wanted from the contract,” Leigh added.
“The department pushed to get the contract in place at all costs and many managers agreed hours of work with their consultants which the trusts could not afford.”
He said consultants must now justify their pay rise by giving more support to the redesign of services, and by changing their working culture, although they have little incentive to do so.
Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Tim Pearce