NHS trusts and other organisations overseen by the Department of Health and Social Care agreed staff payoffs worth £42m in 2021/22, including 36 “golden goodbyes” worth more than £150,000 each.
In the last five years, 324 staff in the health and care sector got payoffs of more than £150,000, including 44 who received more than £200,000, according to analysis of DHSC figures.
The revelations come as ministers prepare to spend another £100m on a reorganisation of NHS England. Union bosses said low-paid health workers would “struggle to understand” the millions spent on payoffs.
While the NHS is in a recruitment crisis, hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on exit packages because of repeated reorganisations, agreed departures and other redundancies.
Since 2017/18, the DHSC has overseen more than 17,700 redundancies and departures. The total cost of exit packages in the department, health trusts, executive agencies and other organisations it oversees has been nearly £386m.
New regulations came into force in November 2020 to impose a cap of £95,000 on public sector payoffs, but these were revoked in February 2021. Officials were concerned the cap had unintended consequences and significant implications for leavers who took early pension benefits.
NHS England is about to launch a voluntary redundancy scheme as it cuts at least 6,000 jobs in a merger with NHS Digital and Health Education England. A £100m pot has been allocated for exit packages and other costs for 1,000 jobs to be cut in the first round, equivalent to £100,000 a post. This figure also includes other costs such as legal services and advice. NHS England has not provided a total cost for the restructuring involving at least another 5,000 posts.
The planned payouts come after an influx of senior staff during the pandemic. A report published by the thinktank Policy Exchange last May, Devolve to Evolve?, found the total workforce of NHS England grew 67% from 6,102 to 10,215 during the pandemic from February 2020 to February 2022, with a large increase in senior roles.
Sara Gorton, head of health at the Unison union, said: “It’s only right that employees whose jobs go as the result of the merger receive proper compensation. But workers in other parts of the NHS will struggle to understand why huge amounts of money are being spent at a time when services are struggling. NHS vacancies are also at an all-time high and staff are being told there’s no money to fund pay rises.”
Mark Cubbon, chief delivery officer at NHS England, said: “While the NHS is already one of the most efficient health services in the world with administrative costs less than Germany and France, NHS England has committed to reducing the size of its organisation by up to 40% as it brings together three organisations. For the taxpayer, this process will deliver £400m in savings a year by its completion – money that can be reinvested into frontline care and for our staff.”