At least 650 NHS managers in England were paid a larger salary than the Prime Minister (which is £142,500) in 2009/10, according to a report by Income Data Services (IDS). The average chief executive got £158,800 and heads of foundation trusts got £164,500.

The report said that while nurses’ pay went up by 68 per cent under the previous government, salaries for NHS trust chief executives went up by 121 per cent. As a result, when the coalition took over from Labour, 80 per cent of England’s NHS hospital chief executives in England were getting more than David Cameron – with 46 on more than £200,000 (39 of these will remain in post despite the coalition’s NHS reforms).

Although it was recommended that senior managers in the health service should not get pay rises over 1.5 per cent, the report said that a double figure increase was given to 17 per cent of foundation trust heads. In some cases, hospital chief executives got a 50 per cent pay rise over five years.

The report, which claimed pay for NHS trust heads had “accelerated sharply” between 1997 and 2010, said salaries went from being 4.4 times what the average health worker earned to 6.1 times.

IDS pointed out that University College London Hospitals trust – where 360 jobs are to go – paid Sir Robert Naylor £262,500; Salford Royal Hospitals trust – planning to cut 750 jobs – paid David Dalton £232,600; and Barts and the London trust – due to axe 635 jobs – paid Peter Morris £262,000.

Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This exposes some absolutely deplorable double standards, especially as Britain entered recession. At a time when senior managers should have been showing leadership, too many of them accepted rises which are absolutely indefensible