Top doctors accuse Brown of being vindictive over pay

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Doctors' leaders accused Gordon Brown of being "vindictive" and "petty" after he cut pay rises for hospital consultants, judges, MPs and senior civil servants to 1 per cent from April as part of a Treasury squeeze on top salaries until their next rise in November.

But the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Maltravers, will get a rise of 1 per cent from April, and a further 5.4 per cent in November, taking his salary this year to about £270,000. Also, nurses and doctors were awarded rises of 2.5 per cent paid in full from next month.

The consultants, who were recommended for a rise of 2.2 per cent from 1 April, like the other groups who are being paid in two stages, will receive 1 per cent in April and an extra 1.2 per cent in November. They accused the Chancellor of making them scapegoats for the overspending in the NHS which has led to 4,000 job losses.

Tony Blair and Mr Brown have disagreed over the squeeze on consultants' pay, forcing Mr Brown to delay the announcement, which the Chancellor had wanted to include in his Budget. But the Prime Minister eventually backed down.

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, said: "These decisions are fair but affordable and they send a clear signal to the NHS that we are serious about the need to restore financial balance while we continue to improve patient care."

Ms Hewitt said the pay of a new consultant on the minimum salary scale had gone up from £42,170 in March 1997 to £69,991 from this April, and was set to rise to £70,823 from November. In cash terms, this meant a 68 per cent rise overall, Ms Hewitt said.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) said it was "astonished at the vindictive and petty treatment of consultants" through the phased pay increase. It said the move "punished" doctors who worked hard and was a "crazy strategy". Dr Paul Miller, chairman of the BMA consultants' committee, said: "I cannot believe the Government has been so mean-minded. This low pay rise will do very little to relieve NHS debt, but will damage doctors' goodwill enormously."

Dr Jo Hilborne, chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, said she was "appalled" at the treatment of the consultants. "This sends the message to doctors that they're to blame for the failure of NHS managers to balance the books."

Under the pay awards, dentists will get a 3 per cent increase, nurses physiotherapists and other NHS professions 2.5 per cent, and junior doctors 2.2 per cent, paid in full from tomorrow.

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