LONDON (Reuters), May 11 - The U.K. government's new consultant contract for senior doctors cost 90 million pounds more than expected, but has yet to show much benefit for patients, according to a report on Wednesday.
It has also contributed to mounting NHS deficits, added the report by the influential think-tank the King's Fund.
The contract, signed in 2003 as part of a wider government overhaul of the NHS, was designed to reward consultants with more pay for their skills and create changes in work practices that would benefit patients.
But the study, based on analysis of five hospital trusts in London and on interviews with key figures, said it found a lack of clear guidance and oversight at the national level.
It also said the scale and cost of implementing the scheme had been underestimated, along with how much work the 30,000 consultants in England do.
These factors resulted in notable differences in approach and outcome between trusts, and undermined reform efforts aimed at helping patients, the study added.
It noted that a recent estimate revealed basic salaries for consultants had gone up by almost 50% between 2001 and 2005, and had contributed to significant pressure on hospital budgets and the deficit facing some trusts.
In recent weeks, a number of health care trusts have been forced to announce redundancies because of overspending.
The study also said there was evidence to suggest some managers paid the new contracts little more than lip service.
"There has been a tendency by managers in some trusts to regard the contract as a compliance issue, 'a box to be ticked' rather than a mechanism for change," the report said, adding that a stronger link between pay, productivity and performance was needed.
"Even though the new contract is still relatively in its infancy, there are significant concerns that some NHS organisations do not seem to have complete plans in place to ensure that the contract can be used to benefit patients directly," said report author Professor James Buchan in a statement.
Last Updated: 2006-05-10 15:33:32 -0400 (Reuters Health)
Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.