Secrecy in consultants' merit pay to be ended

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The Independent Online

Secrecy shrouding the award of NHS merit money which can double the earnings of top hospital consultants to more than pounds 100,000 a year is to be broken.

Gerry Malone, the health minister, will today announce the reform of the system to end the secrecy and to allow hospital trusts a say in which consultants receive the lower awards of up to pounds 10,000 extra on their salaries.

Consultants have jealously guarded their right to merit money on top of their NHS earnings and private income. They have insisted it should be controlled by their senior peers.

Under a compromise that system will be retained for top consultants, who are eligible for awards of up to pounds 49,820. But for the first time their names will be published in the annual report of the advisory committee on distinction awards. The lower awards of pounds 10,490 will be decided by hospital trusts and consultants' representatives.

Mr Malone says the system will help female consultants and those from ethnic minorities and reward less fashionable areas such as pathology and geriatrics. "It used to be decided by other consultants. It was described as being in the hands of the medical mafia ... and with good reason, but that is going to change," said one Whitehall source. Consultants get from pounds 40,620 to pounds 52,440 in basic salary from the NHS. The merit awards are pounds 10,490; pounds 20,975; pounds 36,710; and pounds 49,820.

The Government is also moving to defuse a row with family doctors unhappy about the growing burden of night calls. An initiative will be launched this week to cut the amount of red tape and form filling for GPs.