A government contractor is attempting to recruit frontline junior doctors with a pay-bump of more than double the average salary – to perform assessments on benefit claimants’ fitness to work.
In the last month, recruitment website healthjobs.co.uk lists added almost 100 job advertisements for "functional assessor" roles with Maximus, the US company contracted by the Department of Work and Pensions to carry out assessments of claimants.
Candidates, who are required to have two years post-qualification medical experience, are offered positions starting at £72,000 with some roles stretching to £98,000. The NHS salary for a junior doctor with two years experience would be around £30,000.
One NHS doctor noted on Twitter that the company – motto: "Helping Government Serve the People" – was in effect "paying drs to medically endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients".
The recruitment drive follows a National Audit Office report earlier this month which found that Maximus was "not on track" to meet government targets to reduce benefits costs.
The NAO suggested these failings were "largely due to problems reaching the full staff complement" and spiralling costs due to the "rising salaries for healthcare professionals".
The British Medical Association (BMA) declined to comment when contacted by BuzzFeed News. An NHS Employers spokesperson also declined to comment, but said they had been aware of the practice for years, as it had operated similarly under previous DWP contractor Atos.
Maximus operates a number of divisions in the UK, two of which – the Centre for Health and Disability Assessment (CHDA) and Health Management Ltd (HML) – the DWP has contracted to determine claimants' Employment Support Assessment (ESA) and Fit For Work (FFW) suitability.
Earlier this month, a Maximus whistleblower alleged medical professionals working for the company “questioned the ethics of what they were doing, and whether the tests were making people mentally and physically worse off".
Campaigner Dominic Aversano carries a petition to the DWP in 2013 and demonstrators near parliament in 2014
The average junior doctor's salary for foundation year one is around £22,000, rising to £28,000 in their second year. Specialist training increases their salary to £30,000, and goes up to £47,175 for the most qualified, full registrars.
Maximus' listings require "a minimum of two years' post-qualification of broad based healthcare experience", in effect asking for candidates about to begin specialising.
Last year, it emerged up to 3,000 doctors from abroad were hired to plug gaps in medical specialties, including A&E, radiology, ophthalmology and general medicine, due to chronic NHS shortfalls.
It comes amid a dispute between the Department of Health and junior doctors' contracts, with doctors claiming health secretary Jeremy Hunt's proposed changes to contract hours would compromise patient safety.
A Maximus spokesperson told Buzzfeed News: "The focus for our recruitment is the private healthcare sector. Two thirds of the Healthcare professionals we have recruited since taking over the contract (March 2015) have come from that sector.
"Our functional assessors – doctors, nurses and therapists - are responsible for carrying out high quality assessments and we offer a competitive salary, in line with the market rate."