Pay boost on way to recruit doctors and nurses

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Doctors, nurses and midwives are in line for thousands of pounds in pay rises, bonuses and supplements under the Government's plan to rescue the health service.

Doctors, nurses and midwives are in line for thousands of pounds in pay rises, bonuses and supplements under the Government's plan to rescue the health service.

Ministers have accepted that increased pay is essential to recruit the extra 20,000nurses, 7,500 consultants and 2,000 GPs that will be needed to help cut waiting lists over the next five years.

The public consultation on the NHS, run in May, found 27 per cent of people said they wanted better pay for doctors and nurses. The NHS plan, published last week, says: "We are prepared to invest in pay."

Measures to be introduced include bonuses for staff who "work hardest for the NHS", new "market forces supplements" to attract staff to work in less popular areas, and an overhaul of the merit award system for NHS consultants.

Hospital consultants, who currently earn NHS salaries of £49,000 to £63,000 before merit pay (which can add up to a further £60,000), are in line for the biggest rises. New consultants will be banned from working in the private sector for the first seven years but they will get compensation from the NHS. "In return [for the loss of private work] we plan to increase the financial rewards to newly qualified consultants," the plan says. A Department of Health spokesman said: "There are a good number of doctors who, from an ethical point of view, want to work more in the NHS but are not able to because they can't earn the same. We want to acknowledge dedication to the NHS."

Average private earnings for consultants who do private practice were £27,000 in 1999, ranging from £16,000 for psychiatrists to £75,000 for plastic surgeons. Earnings are lowest in the early years as consultants build their reputations but compensation is likely to run into tens of thousands of pounds over the seven-year period.

The merit award system, which gives increases of £2,500 to £60,000 for the most senior consultants, is to be revamped to give the biggest rewards to those who "make the biggest contribution to ... improving local health services". The number of consultants with a bonus of £5,000 or more will be doubled and the total in receipt of any merit award will rise from under a half to two-thirds.

The British Medical Association said it would oppose the restriction on consultants' private practice, which it described as "an encroachment on a fundamental right of all employees to do what they like with their own spare time". A spokesman said: "We will be taking legal advice on this."

The plan calls for the recruitment of at least 20,000 extra nurses over the next five years on top of the 15,000 vacancies waiting to be filled in England. In areas such as London, where it is hard to recruit, supplements will be paid and help given with accommodation costs to attract staff. Three "staff hotels" are to be built for nurses whose shifts make it difficult to travel between work and home.

Nurses and doctors will also qualify for bonuses from the national fund, worth £500m a year by 2003-04, set up to reward good performance. The aim is to reward the clinical teams that deliver the good performance against targets on waiting times and modernisation set locally and nationally.