Jeremy Hunt has said some NHS posts warrant a higher wage than that paid to the prime minister.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ, the health secretary appeared to backtrack on his previous criticism of the pay of very senior managers.

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt said ‘payment needs to be linked to performance’

He also said being an NHS manager was “far more difficult than being a manager in the private sector”.

Mr Hunt today told HSJ the government needed to be “sensible” on the pay of senior managers and that “there are examples where it is appropriate to pay people higher than the prime minister”.

He said he envisaged this in situations “when you have very talented individuals, when you have clinicians who have a market rate but who could perform well in an outstanding leadership role”.

“It’s not something I would make a generalised rule about [but] I think that where an NHS manager is doing an outstanding job I have absolutely no problem with them being paid outstandingly well,” he said.

“Payment needs to be linked to performance.”

He added: “It’s important to say the outstanding managers we have don’t do it for the money – they do it because they love the job.” He also stressed the NHS was a publicly funded service and there was a “need to have very tight controls on high salaries”.

Mr Hunt’s comments contradict his earlier stance on senior pay in the NHS. In October he wrote to the seven arm’s length bodies that formally report to the Department of Health. He said the service needed “a collective reality check” to ensure it did not end up in a situation “where very high pay is normalised” and that inflated salaries were “unacceptable and unjustified”.

But in his HSJ interview Mr Hunt praised the service’s leaders saying they did a more difficult job than their private sector counterparts, citing “the complexity of what you have to do, the fact that you are dealing with so many life or death situations on a daily basis and the huge pressures that hospitals are under”.