Published: 31/10/2002, Volume II2, No. 5829 Page 4

Senior managers say some of the 'major risks' identified in plans to restructure the Welsh NHS are the fault of politicians who set salaries too low to attract candidates to key appointments.

Bryan Mitchell, programme director of the NHS structural change programme which will replace five health authorities with 22 local health boards in April, sent out a memo earlier this month warning of 'major risks' that the timetable could not be met. These centred on cost, time, accommodation and the fact that a number of senior appointments have yet to be made.

The NHS in Wales has failed to appoint a finance director, and the post will be re-advertised next week after it was re-evaluated and its salary increased to a higher civil service grade. It also failed to appoint a director of its business services centre, and is re-advertising. One chair said:

'They [the Welsh Assembly] have been under a lot of scrutiny about keeping costs down and they have ended up with salaries that are out of sync with the rest of the system - in particular that of trust chief executives.'

And a chief executive said the salary issue reflected a wider problem perceived by potential applicants for national roles in Wales - that the Assembly would take a role 'somewhere between that of a government and a strategic health authority'.

'Most NHS managers do not want to be put in a position where they are working that closely to ministers while having operational responsibility, ' he added.

Appointments to the three regional directors posts have only been made on an acting basis, though substantive appointments are expected soon.

Just 13 of the 22 LHB chief executives have been appointed, and a second round of recruitment is now underway.

One chief executive said: 'It is 18 months since the announcement of the restructuring of Wales was made - It is a much longer lead-in time than there was in England and yet, at this late stage, a lot of the key elements are not in place.'

But this week the Welsh Assembly insisted the April deadline will be met and said all the possible obstacles were being closely managed and regularly discussed.