Health chiefs to declare pay and perks: Bottomley acts to avoid spending scandals

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HOSPITAL chiefs will be required to declare all their earnings and perks from the NHS, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday.

Under a code of conduct intended to prevent further spending scandals, chairmen, chief executives and members of NHS boards will also be required to declare their private interests. However, there will be no restriction on earnings, in spite of controversy over pay and cars offered to recruit executives from the private sector.

'There are circumstances where it may be in the best interests of the patients and the trust to pay the chief executive a sum of money which at first sight seems on the high side,' Mrs Bottomley said.

Tighter rules of conduct were laid down following irregularities at Wessex health authority, where pounds 43m was wasted on a computer system, and West Midlands health authority, where a pounds 2.5m consultancy contract was awarded to a company whose finance director was also on the health board.

Mrs Bottomley said there were no plans to make NHS managers face the threat of being surcharged, like councillors on local authorities, for wasting taxpayers' money. The ultimate penalty for breaking the code was that she could sack health authority chairmen.

Directors of NHS boards will be required to declare private interests, although they will not have to declare private income.

'No one should use their public position to further their private interests,' Mrs Bottomley said, implementing the recommendations of a task force set up to investigate NHS management failures.

The announcement was timed to forestall an expected attack by Labour in the Commons, in a debate on the NHS that was postponed until next week. But the task force report appeared to support Labour's allegation that the image of the NHS has been damaged by the introduction of an 'internal market' in the health service.

'There is a perception, both within the NHS and amongst the public, that public service values have suffered in the development of the NHS 'market' and a more businesslike approach to management of the NHS,' the task force said.

Mrs Bottomley rejected the suggestion that members of NHS boards should be required to declare political affiliations, in spite of Labour allegations that the Government had appointed Tory 'yes men' to implement its changes.