Editor's Viewpoint: Bonus culture in need of overhaul
Many people will be amazed - and a little angry - at the level of reward given to many hospital consultants in Northern Ireland at a time when the health service is under immense pressure.
By any measure, bonuses of £57m over a period of five years is a huge amount of money. It can be argued that doctors who perform at an exceptional level and who make an exceptional impact on patients' lives or who provide unique services are deserving of recognition and remuneration.
However, the bonuses last year were paid out to almost half of the consultants working in hospitals in Northern Ireland, which would suggest that the definition of exceptional has been stretched. No-one is suggesting that the doctors do not perform expertly or do not work hard, but such virtues can also be applied to very many people who work in the health service. The top bonus available, just over £75,000, is the equivalent of the annual salary of three nurses. Many nurses could well argue that they often go beyond the call of duty in caring for patients without significant reward.
The greatest argument for a review of the bonus payments system is the current economic climate. The health service in Northern Ireland is facing deep cuts in its budget. Already more than £120m has been taken out in efficiency savings; more will follow as part of the £128m public spending cuts announced last month, and even greater austerity will come in the autumn when the full extent of the Chancellor's cuts will be unveiled.
These cuts will severely affect frontline services and put developments in care on the long finger. Many in the public sector, including some in the health service, will be forced to accept a pay freeze and they will be outraged if they see colleagues being rewarded on a huge scale while they suffer.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey should examine the consultants' contracts as a matter of urgency to see if economies can be made in them until the general financial climate improves.