Mark Conrad reports on how a controversy around extra payments to consultants in England is putting pressure on Government ministers to extend to all NHS staff.
Ministers are under heavy pressure to reward all frontline health and care staff for their efforts during the Coronavirus crisis, after it emerged that hospital consultants in England have already secured bonuses during the crisis.
Byline Times has learnt that all consultants in England will receive a share of a £150 million annual fund usually set aside to reward senior medics who go ‘above and beyond’ the call of duty in their work – regardless of what role they have served during the pandemic.
NHS Employers, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) this month agreed to distribute an even share of cash from Clinical Excellence Awards (CEAs) fund to all consultants – who are already among the highest-paid staff within the NHS.
A share of CEA money is usually paid as an annual bonus only to consultants or academic GPs who perform ‘over and above’ the standard expected of their role. Consultants judged to merit a basic CEA receive just under £3,000 as a bonus, but payments for the most outstanding work – known as ‘platinum’ awards – can be as high as £76,500.
A BMA circular published this month revealed: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Local Clinical Excellence Awards (LCEA) will not be run this year, and the award money will instead be distributed equally among eligible consultants. The existing funding includes any money rolled over from the last two years, including money from award rounds that may not yet have been run or completed.”
Byline Times‘ sources suggested that each hospital consultant could now receive around £2,500 each for their Coronavirus work.
However, some consultants have criticised the plan as potentially divisive at a time when all frontline NHS and care staff are putting their lives at risk – and thousands of UK citizens are losing their jobs. As yet, neither NHS employers nor health ministers have indicated that other health or care staff will receive a Coronavirus-related bonus.
One senior hospital consultant told Byline Times: “The pooling and splitting of this year’s LCEA budget between all consultants is untimely and insensitive when many parts of society are struggling with financial hardship. It [also] fails to recognise the hard work done by many clinicians in a variety of specialities in response to the pandemic.
“The BMA need to consider the psychological impact of this deal on staff members who may feel that their additional efforts have been ignored. They also should explain why this decision has been made now.”
The senior source added that they had not been consulted on the plan. “I’m a BMA member and wasn’t consulted on this or even aware the negotiations were ongoing. I’m embarrassed that this has been negotiated by my union on my behalf.
“On a personal note, I feel ashamed to receive additional payment for doing a job I am already well paid for, when other staff members may have put themselves at greater risk in the pandemic or be suffering financial difficulties if members of their family are furloughed or out of work. I have taken the decision to pass any pay awards on to a food bank or charity dealing with the consequences of poverty.”
A second consultant, who works at an NHS trust in the south-west, agreed: “As consultants, we are already well-rewarded for our work. Of course, everybody is working extremely hard in tackling this national health crisis – but that includes other doctors, nursing staff, hospital porters, carers, administrative staff and others,” she said.
“Health and care staff do not do this for the money, but I’d like to see nursing staff and others receive assurances that their excellent work will also be rewarded. The one thing this pandemic has shown is that, within the NHS, we are a team and we rely on each other.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care (DoHSC) would not be drawn on whether plans are afoot to reward other frontline NHS and care staff for their work in tackling a pandemic which has now killed tens of thousands of people across the UK – including more than 150 frontline staff.
It also claimed that the CEA payments do not relate to the Coronavirus outbreak, despite the fact that the BMA directly references the pandemic in its monthly circular announcing the bonus.
The spokesperson said: “The decision not to run the usual local annual awards competition this year is in recognition of the operational pressures services are under. The payments are not a bonus related to consultants’ response to Coronavirus.”
Byline Times understands that Unison, the country’s biggest healthcare trade union, would prefer that health and care staff are not paid a one-off bonus for their pandemic work, but should instead receive a significant and permanent pay rise – reflective of their wider contribution – after the outbreak. The Herculean efforts of staff over the past few months will form part of Unison’s submissions when staff bodies meet with employers later this year to begin negotiations on the next pay round.
A report by the centre-left think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, last week called for all health and care staff to be given a 10% bonus in 2020/21, in recognition of their pandemic work, as well as support for any mental health issues they encounter.
IPPR health research fellow, Chris Thomas, said: “Our care heroes are making significant sacrifices to pull our country through this crisis. But Government must ensure people’s lives, livelihoods and security are not lost unnecessarily. That means taking urgent action.”