Inquiry as NHS manager gets pounds 35,000 pay-off and new post

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The Independent Online
LOUISE JURY and TONY HEATH

An investigation has been launched into how a manager was appointed to a pounds 38,000 job in the NHS within days of receiving a pounds 35,000 redundancy pay-off from a health service post just five miles away.

Rhodri Morgan, Labour's Welsh health spokesman, said yesterday that the case raised important questions about the future of the NHS including how the Conservatives' break-up of the service was costing the public money. "It cannot be right in law for somebody to leave a [health] trust in the NHS and pop up a week later in another NHS job having just collected a cheque," he said.

Julie Sharma left the Cwmbran-based Gwent Community Health Trust at the end of December with a redundancy award of pounds 35,000 after her job as business development manager was axed in a re-organisation aimed at securing budget cuts of pounds 250,000 a year.

Within days, she was appointed policy and performance director of the new Gwent Health Authority at Pontypool, five miles from her former office, at pounds 38,000 a year. The post was advertised only in the NHS.

William Hague, Secretary of state for Wales, is now investigating after protests from the South Gwent Community Health Council, which represents patients, and Mr Morgan, MP for Cardiff West. The authority has ordered its own investigation and Mr Morgan has also asked the Audit Commission to intervene.

Mrs Sharma's former employer, the Gwent Community Health Trust, which provides mental health, learning disability and community services for the county, claims it had no choice but to compensate her when her post was abolished.

Bob Hudson, the chief executive, said the authority and trust were independent employers. "If we make somebody redundant, we have obligations to them in law." The issue was a national one and had come to a head because the NHS re-organisation had created more employers, he said.

Mr Morgan said the situation was "patently absurd". Anyone continuing work in the NHS should not be awarded redundancy. "The Government can't have it both ways. It says the trusts are within the NHS in which case they're not separate employers. There is only one occupational pension scheme for the service."

An additional factor in this case was the advertisement of the position internally. "Mrs Sharma was clearly not entitled to apply as an internal candidate if she had been made redundant from the NHS. But if she was still considered an NHS employee then she should not have been awarded severance pay."

Mr Hague, who has asked for a report on procedures, said in a written answer "a person who is no longer employed in the National Health Service would not be eligible for a job restricted to existing employees".

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