The Ministry of Health has recruited five extra bureaucrats earning more than $90,000 a year but has slashed 155 jobs below that salary.

MPs on Parliament's health committee questioned the rise in highly paid staff during the annual financial review of the ministry.

The number above the committee's cut-line in July was five greater than a year earlier, with a reduction of 155 below the line, according to figures supplied by the ministry to the Herald.

The committee's report said it was "concerned that the number of staff at the ministry whose salaries are under $90,000 has decreased, while the number on higher salaries has increased.

"We were told this reflects the challenges of recruiting staff with the necessary expertise in a competitive market."

The ministry said the increase in the number of actual people earning over $90,000 reflected a lower level of vacancies at the senior level.

"The reduction in the number of people earning less than $90,000 reflects savings through efficiencies in back office-type operations and projects that have been completed.

"The ministry has reduced its operational funding from $237 million in October 2008 to a current budget of $213 million. Savings have been redirected to Crown funding to buy frontline health services."

The State Services Commission said the "potential total remuneration" of the ministry's new director-general, Kevin Woods, was between $550,000 and $559,999.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said he was not bothered by an increase of five ministry employees above the $90,000 line. "It reflects the fact they have fewer people, but more senior people."

He said the ministry was on track to be down to 1290 positions by the middle of this year and its reductions so far had allowed $20 million a year to be redirected into health care from 2008/9 and a further $10 million this financial year - a total of $50 million so far.

When Mr Ryall announced a re-organisation of health administration in October 2009, with the creation of a National Health Board in the ministry and shared back-office functions for district health boards and possibly the ministry, the ministry employed 1475 staff.

He indicated then that a further 400 positions could shift from the ministry to a shared services agency, leaving the ministry/board with 890 staff.

But Mr Ryall said last week the ministry was evaluating plans for the "sector services" unit in the National Health Board, which handled payments and information technology.

THE PAY RATES
Number of Health Ministry staff paid more than $90,000 a year:
* 435 at July 1, 2009.
* 440 at July 1, 2010.

Number paid less than $90,000 a year.
* 1052 at July 1, 2009.
* 897 at July 1, 2010.