Revealed: The 'eye-watering' six-figure payouts to staff leaving ambulance trust
PUBLISHED: 05:30 09 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 09 September 2019
The East of England Ambulance Service spent nearly half a million pounds in 'golden goodbyes' to staff leaving the organisation last year, we can reveal.
Exit packages paid to staff leaving the trust, branded "eye-watering" by a Suffolk MP, cost the NHS £450,502 in the 2018-19 financial year - compared to just £5,111 the year before.
Three of the payments - including the highest sum valued at £160,000 - were for compulsory redundancies, while another departure cost the trust £63,835.
They came amid a number of high-profile departures from EEAST - including former chief executive Robert Morton and director of service delivery Kevin Brown - though the figures do not specify who received the payouts.
Trust bosses said the 2018-19 spend reflects its "restructuring of operational and corporate positions".
Former health minister Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and north Ipswich, said: "I am always very concerned when I see eye-watering exit packages like this.
"It's the best part of half a million pounds of public money - I'd much rather see it spent on patients and new ambulances.
"It's the sort of thing that will anger frontline paramedics who can expect a tiny fraction of that amount when leaving the trust.
"Extortionate redundancy payments like this should be long gone by now - it's an outdated practice I thought had disappeared in recent years."
'Significant churn of bosses'
A recent Care Quality Commission report flagged concerns over a "significant churn" of bosses at the trust, rated 'requires improvement' by the watchdog, adding that it did not have enough staff to keep patients safe. It followed a tumultuous period for the trust - in early 2018, 22 serious incidents were investigated during a period of "unprecedented" winter demand.
A review found 15 patients suffered some form of harm, but no patients died because of the pressures.
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At the time EEAST chief executive Mr Morton, who left the trust in late 2018, apologised to families involved.
'Programme of change'
A spokesman for the trust said all payments were made in line with standard NHS redundancy and contractual notice requirements.
They added: "Our spend on redundancies and other agreed departures in 2018-19 reflects the restructuring of operational and corporate positions carried out by the trust as we deliver our programme of change and improvements to our service.
"We cannot comment on the details of individual employees, but all four payments were made in line with standard NHS redundancy and contractual notice requirements."
'There must be a limit'
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said there "must be a limit" to exit packages.
"In the absence of full information about the decisions behind these figures, it is difficult to make informed judgments," he said.
"However, from our point of view, this figure appears high and represents a very significant increase over the figures reported in the previous financial year. If the figure is related to pre-determined agreements within senior management contracts then there is a need for a review of this within the trust. Such figures are quite simply unacceptably high for a public body such as an ambulance trust.
He added: "If the figure has been determined by negotiated exit payouts, then we must rightly question how such potentially large sums were agreed. "There must be a limit."
Meanwhile Sam Older, of the eastern branch of UNISON, agreed with Dr Poulter.
He said: "It is a shame that the trust feels it necessary to spend such huge amounts of public money on exit packages, instead of where it's needed - on the front line, for training, and more resources."
Harry Fone, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, branded the rise in exit payments over the last year "deeply concerning".
"Taxpayers do not want to see their cash funding five or even six-figure golden handshakes," he added.