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Rewards highlight inherently unfair system, say unions

By Emily Moulton

Health service unions have reacted with fury after it emerged millions of pounds have been shelled out on bonuses for Northern Ireland’s top doctors.

The Royal College of Midwives, public sector union Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have questioned whether the system which allowed more than £57m to be given as rewards to consultants over the past five years was justified or fair.

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said it was unacceptable that an elite group of medical professionals were able to receive the payments when ordinary health workers gave up bonuses to introduce a fairer pay system.

She said the unions had no problem with consultants receiving pay rises in general but objected to payments as high as £75,000 — an amount that would pay for around three health workers.

“One of the things we worked on for many, many years was a fairer pay system for health workers called ‘Agenda for Change’. The aim of that system was to tackle the problem of equal pay in the service and to reward a range of health service jobs because their value has not been recognised over the decades,” she said.

“If the doctors, the consultants, the most senior people are all outside that system getting greater levels of pay rises, it underscores an inherently unfair system.”

Breedagh Hughes from the Royal College of Midwives said she was shocked by the figures and questioned whether the money spent on the rewards was justified in the economic climate.

“This is something our Assembly needs to take notice of and I would question whether this is money well spent at a time of such severe economic stringency in the health service,” she said.

“Everybody is having to make sacrifices in the health service at this time and I hope that this is something the Assembly will investigate and make sure only those who are truly worthy of these massive payouts get them.”

Janice Smith from the Royal College of Nursing said the organisation was not opposed to a scheme which rewards clinical excellence, but she said that it should be applied across the board.

“The RCN is aware of the scheme. It is expensive and does need to be looked at, and if there needs to be any such scheme then it has to be for all,” she said.

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