THE chairman of a new Worcestershire NHS trust paid to have a hip replacement operation at a private hospital, it has been revealed.

Dr Bryan Smith, who has not yet begun his job as chairman of the new Worcestershire Primary Care Trust, had his recent surgery at BUPA Southbank in Bath Road, Worcester.

NHS hip replacement patients in Worcestershire normally have to wait nine months for an operation after being referred by their GP. The delay is in line with Government targets.

Dr Smith will be paid £37,500 for a three-day week when he takes up his role as chairman of the new county-wide PCT when the current three PCTs merge on October 1.

His new four-year role will mean he is responsible for about £650m of public money.

When the Worcester News asked the 67-year-old, who lives in Castlemorton, near Malvern, if he had private medical insurance or paid a one-off fee for the operation, he refused to answer.

The cost of a private hip operation for people who do not pay BUPA premiums is between £7,500 and £9,400.

Dr Smith, a former Conservative member of Malvern Hills District Council and current chairman of the Malvern Hills Conservators, said he was unashamed of using the private sector.

"I am not prepared to say whether this was paid by me, by insurance or by a third party. It is a private matter."

He confirmed the NHS had not paid for the operation.

"The NHS is currently seeking to get 15 per cent of its work done by the private sector," he said. "Therefore, I can see no contradiction in my decision to work for the NHS but use private healthcare."

But David Barlow, chairman of South Worcestershire PCT, which is set to merge with Wyre Forest PCT and Redditch and Bromsgrove PCT, said it was astonishing that someone working for the NHS should choose to use the private sector.

"When I was appointed you had to be a user and supporter of the NHS," he said.

"It's like the headmaster of the local state school paying for his children to be educated privately.

"It's hypocritical. What kind of message is it sending out?

"This isn't sour grapes because I didn't get the job - it's been acknowledged that we've done a superb job over the past four years - this is a serious worry about the future of the NHS."

Roger Moore, chief executive of the NHS Appointments Commission that appointed Dr Smith, said there was no criteria which said applicants to NHS roles could not use private healthcare.

"What we expect people to show is that they have a commitment to the NHS," he said.

"There are all sorts of ways in which they can do this. They should be able to show that they have a knowledge of the NHS and some understanding of local health issues, which will be tested at interview.

"Also, even if they have private healthcare insurance, their friends and family will probably use the NHS and so they will have knowledge of the NHS that way."

Bupa declined to comment.