THIS WEEK

Health service managers in Northern Ireland have vigorously defended themselves following a report from the public accounts committee attacking their 'excessive' pay rises, benefits and redundancy payments.

The first report of the Northern Ireland Assembly's public accounts committee into the pay, contracts and termination settlements of senior managers claims 'the continued disregard of pay restraint by some of the trusts' is 'indefensible and insensitive'.

But HSJ sources claim that there are serious inaccuracies in the report and have criticised the way in which the committee collected its evidence.

The report attacks the size of pay-offs for directors over the past few years, claiming that over£1m was paid out in eight termination settlements.

In the case of the former chief executive of the Eastern Ambulance Service trust, it states:

'It is clear to the committee that the department was taken for a ride'.

But HSJ has learned that the evidence given to the committee about this case was inaccurate and will be the subject of a formal complaint.

The report says 'the individual concerned received a large settlement yet moved to a new job in Surrey Ambulance Service trust, only one week after departure'.

HSJ understands that a payment of£88,000 was made to Alan Murray, who was chief executive of the trust in 1995, when it merged to become part of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service trust.

But although he did go on to become chief executive of Surrey Ambulance trust, HSJ understands he was not offered the job until several weeks after finishing in Northern Ireland.

At the time of the settlement, Mr Murray did not have a written contract and it is understood the payment represented a sum less than the equivalent of what was verbally agreed to be the balance of his contract. The committee report says the practice of not having written contracts is 'totally unacceptable'.

Institute of Healthcare Management president William McKee said it was 'clear that a number of misunderstandings and misapprehensions' had appeared in the report and that the process of collecting evidence could have been better.

The report claims 'there was some justification for the public perception of senior management 'fat cats' benefiting disproportionately from the new trusts compared with other groups of workers in the frontline of the health service'.

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety will produce a formal reply to the committee's report in the next few months.

Health minister Bairbre de Brun said she found the 'excessive pay increases'were 'unacceptable', and that 'a fairer, more transparent pay system for chief executives and senior executives' would be introduced as soon as possible'.

Report on Health and Personal Social Services - Executive Directors' and Senior Managers' Pay, Contracts and Termination Settlements.

Northern Ireland Public Accounts Committee, www. niassembly. gov. uk/public