A survey of chairs working across the NHS provider sector has found unanimous support for the view that NHS trust chairs are underpaid compared with their foundation trust counterparts.

The findings, shared exclusively with HSJ, suggest that on average foundation trust chairs are paid £40,000 – double the £20,000 average pay for an NHS trust chair.

Thirty chairs – 15 from non-FTs and 15 from FTs – responded to the poll. When asked if the chairs of non-foundation trusts were paid sufficiently all 30 answered “no”. All respondents agreed that increasing pay would attract a more diverse pool of candidates.

The news comes after the NHS Trust Development Authority highlighted “particular concern” about the high attrition rate for non-FT chairs.

Respondents to the survey, conducted by consultancy Hunter Healthcare, unanimously agreed that the role of a chair had changed in the last five years.

One acute trust chair told HSJ: “It’s quite outrageous. If you look at what’s happened to the rates over the years there’s essentially been minimal movement.

“You’ve got a situation where you’ve got people with very considerable experience who are being paid a fraction of any sort of market rate.

“Furthermore, they are exposed to reputational risk if things don’t go right. That’s good for us, we should be committed to having our reputations on the line, but I cannot see why we should be paid so much less than foundation trust chairs or than anyone in other equivalent roles in public life.

“It shows a lack of respect for the roles that we’re taking on. We do it out of love for the NHS but there’s a strong sense that we’re being rather abused.”

The salaries of non-FT chairs are set by the health secretary and fall into three rates - £23,600, £21,105 and £18,621, depending on the budget of the trust.

However, a spokesman for the TDA revealed that 17 chairs have been paid a higher salary than the standard bandings where there are “particular challenges” at a trust.

He said: “Where there are particular challenges and in individual cases, usually related to the recruitment of a new chair, ministers have agreed to increase the level of remuneration payable to the chair.”

He added: “Chairs of trusts fulfil an important role and provide experienced leadership and direction to hugely complex organisations.”