Highly-paid NHS managers (and married couple) Karen Straughair and Chris Reed have been at the centre of a new NHS row over excessive payouts. It emerged that the couple were awarded redundancy payments of £1 million between them when their jobs were abolished in the North East of England – although they were quickly rehired in temporary management roles by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in June 2013, and then paid £120,000 for just four months’ work. 50 year-old Karen Straughair’s payment of £605,000 when NHS South of Tyne and Wear was abolished last year was the largest single redundancy payment in the NHS, with her husband’s generous “golden goodbye” when he left NHS North of Tyne then making up £1 million in NHS redundancy payments for the couple.
This seemingly lavish spending on administrators’ salaries has caused anger in some quarters in this time of public sector cuts and budget deficits. Although there is no suggestion of wrongdoing (and an NHS spokesperson claims that the couple were paid appropriately for their positions as Chief Executives), at the very least these large payouts and rapid rehires show a lack of foresight and disregard for taxpayers’ money from the NHS.
MPs were told last year that one in five redundant NHS workers were rehired, sometimes within weeks. While this husband-and-wife pair’s payouts may have been the biggest, they were by no means the only ones benefiting from this lucrative redundancy system: last year 19,000 members of NHS staff were awarded redundancy payments, while 2,300 managers were awarded six-figure sums. Many of these workers have since been rehired by the NHS, some within just four weeks.
As a result, MPs are currently pushing the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill through parliament to ensure that this situation can’t happen again. Under new rules, public sector workers earning £100,000 or more who are given a redundancy payment then rehired within 12 months will be forced to return all or part of their original payout. However, as the Bill will not be retrospective, it seems unlikely that Karen Straughair or Chris Reed will have to pay back a penny.
With the NHS under such strain already, huge payouts to former staff is only worsening the problem, meaning vital departments in the health system have even fewer resources to work with.