Scottish opposition parties have attacked the £2.8m paid in early retirement packages to senior NHS managers as part of trust restructuring.

The payouts were disclosed in a National Audit Office report on the accounts of the NHS in Scotland for 1998-99.

The report shows that the money was divided between five chief executives and 12 executive directors when the number of trusts was reduced from 47 to 28. The bulk of the money was for pension provision. But an undisclosed amount was, according to a Scottish Executive spokesperson, for 'compensation for loss of office'.

Scottish National Party health spokeswoman Kay Ullrich said: 'How many new doctors, nurses or operations would that£2.8m have paid for?'

Unison head of health in Scotland Jim Devine said: 'The sums seem excessive, but if it is in their contracts then clearly there is little more that can be said about this.'

Donald McNeil, development officer for the Institute of Healthcare Management in Scotland, said: 'These payments were strictly in accordance with the contracts given to these individuals, many of whom had given over 30 years of service to the NHS in Scotland and were losing their livelihood.'

The report shows that health boards finished the year with a cumulative surplus of£13m and trusts a deficit of£28m. The board deficit was 'largely technical'.

NAO head Sir John Bourn said the overall financial stewardship of the Scottish NHS 'continued to be of a high standard given the workload arising from reorganisation' which reduced the number of trusts from 47 to 28.

But the report shows that only one NHS body met the Treasury target of paying no less than 95 per cent of undisputed bills within 30 days, while one board and 50 per cent of trusts failed to disclose their performance.