Health secretary Andrew Lansley has announced a review into bonus payments given to NHS consultants across the UK.

Clinical Excellence and Distinction Awards were first introduced in 1948 and have remained largely unchanged for 60 years.

For the financial year 2009-10, the National Health Service paid £202.2m to consultants for Clinical Excellence and Distinction awards, of which 564 consultants received new awards, totalling some £20m.

The Department of Health said the review would bring the awards scheme up to date, ensuring it contributed to improving health outcomes and was affordable.

The review, commissioned by the four UK health departments, will be led by the independent Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration. The DDRB has been asked to submit recommendations by July 2011.

Mr Lansley said: “We want to continue to reward and recognise those individuals who give outstanding patient care and go beyond the call of duty, but we must ensure that the system is effective and affordable.

“The NHS must recognise its responsibilities in the current financial climate as the largest public service in the country and this review will ensure that Clinical Excellence and Distinction Awards are in line with other public sector pay and incentive schemes.”

Chelsea and Westminster Foundation Trust chief executive Heather Lawrence said: “I would agree that the current system of rewarding clinical excellence needs to be reviewed. As an employer of over 200 consultants I need to be assured that the arrangements for rewarding excellence are both fair and affordable.”

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee, said the organisation would “engage” with the review.

He said: “It is worth noting that Clinical Excellence Award Schemes have already been subject to review in recent years, with the conclusion that they are beneficial to the NHS.

“The innovative practices and research activity that they encourage not only benefit patients, but also frequently save the NHS money and bring benefits to the economy.”