TAXPAYERS forked out nearly £400,000 in just 12 months for a management consultant drafted into a NHS trust after it plunged into a multi-million cash crisis, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Stuart Diggles was among the most highly-paid board executives in the country in 2014-15, earning fees of £1,250 a day as interim finance chief at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
His appointment came in the wake of the discovery of discrepancies in the trust’s accounts in March last year when a financial blackhole worth nearly £10 million was uncovered.
Figures show his company Task Finance Ltd was paid consultancy fees of £319,000 in the 51 weeks to March 31 for his services and his appointment cost a further £64,000 in VAT.
Last night a senior MP said he was “outraged” over the payments which have also come under fire from union leaders.
Figures show the salary was around 14 times the median figure in the trust where half the employees were paid less than £23,000 in 2014-15.
Mr Diggles was drafted in after it was revealed the trust’s accounts had been misstated and it was deep in the red. His predecessor Janet Ashby, who received a total remuneration package including pension of £135,000 in the previous year, was later dismissed for gross misconduct.
Officials have since admitted the crisis was so severe it threatened the future of the trust. It ran up a £11.8m deficit in 2014-15 and is planning a deficit of £11.1m by next March although latest figures suggest it could be higher as a wider financial crisis engulfs NHS hospitals.
Shadow Cabinet member John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne, said he was “very angry” at the scale of the payments and accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of failing to act over the “merry-go-round of management consultants charging over-the-top fees”.
“When staff and finances in hospitals are so hard-pressed, it’s an outrage that consultants are paid fees like this,” he said. “You could probably employ more than a dozen nurses for frontline care for the price of a management consultant like this.”
Tony Pearson, head of health for Unison in Yorkshire, said the trust was under “enormous pressure” due to Government cuts and called for an explanation for the payments.
Mr Diggles, who is currently handing over to another executive, was called in at a time when the trust was facing threats from creditors due to unpaid bills, putting at risk the supply of key drugs, locum doctors and catering. In March it was forced to take out a £21.2m emergency loan with the Department of Health to shore up its cash position.
A Barnsley trust spokeswoman said: “Mr Diggles was brought in as interim director of finance and his leadership and expert knowledge has ensured that we are now in a significantly improved financial position, with an approved financial turnaround plan in place and solid foundations upon which we can continue to grow. Key critical financial risks faced by the trust were brought under control.
“The interim position was intended to be short term however we unfortunately had two unsuccessful recruitment processes to find a substantial director of finance. Given our financial situation, it was vital that we retained strong leadership from a financial perspective, hence the contract was extended.”