Foundation trust finance directors are earning 16 per cent more than their non-foundation trust counterparts, according to a survey that adds to evidence of a growing 'pay gap'.

Chief executives are paid 5.4 per cent more, says the report, which is likely to fuel fears that foundation trusts are stripping other sectors of talent.

The NHS Boardroom Pay Report 2008 by Incomes Data Services shows that nursing directors at foundation trusts earned 25 per cent more than in other trusts in the year to March 2007.

It states: "A pay gap has started to open up between the two types of trust [and] it would appear foundation trust remuneration committees are using this greater freedom to boost the rates paid to directors."

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals foundation trust had the highest-paid chief executive, with a package worth£220,000. Meanwhile in Warrington, 5 Boroughs Partnership mental health trust's chief received£77,500.

The top earner in the NHS was a director at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare trust, receiving£245,000-£250,000 as turnaround chief and then interim finance director.

Ambulance trust chiefs' pay shot up by 26 per cent in a year as a result of mergers. They became the second highest earning sector, after acute trusts, where the average salary was£137,500. In mental health trusts, the figure was£117,500.

The report also found boardroom turnover rates were causing "turmoil". This led to Southern Health and Social Care trust paying four redundancy packages ranging from£172,500 to£228,000.