Editor's Viewpoint: Bonuses for medics a bitter pill to take
The long-running hyponatraemia inquiry into the deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals produced one of the most damning indictments of medical staff and practices here.
Mr Justice O'Hara, the chairman of the inquiry which lasted 14 years, was scathing of how the families were treated after the deaths of the children, and also of the evidence given to the inquiry by some medical professionals.
Two of those criticised were anaesthetist Dr Robert Taylor and paediatrician Dr Heather Steen. These were not mild rebukes. Of Dr Taylor, Mr Justice O'Hara said that despite all the evidence given to him he did not believe he had heard the full story and that the anaesthetist had offered no insight into why he did what he did during a kidney transplant on four-year-old Adam Strain.
He criticised the care given by Heather Steen and another doctor to Claire Roberts, and their failure to refer her death to the coroner, saying that was wrong.
Today, the parents of those two children will be shocked to learn that both Dr Taylor and Dr Steen have been receiving bonus payments for outstanding contribution to the NHS. These payments started several years after the deaths of the children, and there is no evidence to link the payments to the work carried out by the two medical professionals in treating Adam and Claire.
Yet it would seem strange to a layperson that medical professionals under investigation in a judicial-led inquiry should be the beneficiaries of bonus payments - in Dr Taylor's case almost £550,000 since 2001 and in Dr Steen's case almost £9,000 a year since 2008.
Payments are made annually under the Clinical Excellence Awards scheme and once granted are subject to review every five years.
It is not known if either Dr Taylor or Dr Steen had their payments reviewed or if the comments of Mr Justice O'Hara were considered.
Aside from these two particular cases, the public, aware of the funding crisis which seems to perpetually challenge the NHS, will be more than a little surprised at the level of the bonus payments made to recipients. Although it has to be noted that the Department of Health here stopped new applications for awards from 2010 for a number of years. However, existing award-holders continued to be paid. The British Medical Association brought the Department to court over the suspension of payments which it said would lower morale and hit recruitment.