SNP MP Tommy Sheppard has challenged UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt to explain why the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) fitness for work test provider was using taxpayers’ money to entice frontline junior doctors away from the NHS with a massive salary.

Sheppard confronted Jeremy Hunt in the Commons yesterday over the fact that Maximus was offering £72,000 a year – significantly more than that paid to NHS junior doctors – to carry out controversial work capability assessments (WCA).

News that Maximus was advertising for junior doctors and offering them huge wages was revealed by The National last month.

Sheppard, the SNP’s Cabinet Office spokesman and MP for Edinburgh East, told Hunt: “The Secretary of State will be aware that Maximus are currently recruiting junior doctors to perform work capability assessments in the DWP.

“They’re offering £72,000 a year, which is up to twice the salary they would get in the health service.

“Can I ask, is he concerned that this will result in inexperienced medical staff making judgements that relate to people’s livelihoods, and also, is he not concerned that this will result in a drain in staff resources out of the NHS and out of providing general health care for the public?”

Hunt replied: “What I would say to the honourable gentleman is that as a result of the changes this government has made on welfare reform we have two million more people in work.

He continued: “We have nearly half a million fewer children growing up in households where nobody works and part of that is making important reforms, including have independent medical assessments of people who are in the benefits system, and I think that is something that everyone should welcome.”

Sheppard explained he had been made aware of the adverts for the posts by Scottish disabled rights campaign group, Black Triangle.

He said: “Mr Hunt didn’t even attempt to answer my question, he just completely ignored it, so even they cannot defend the indefensible. I think it is shocking.

“They [are] being offered double the money and, I mean, junior doctors are not the best people to make a complicated medical assessment on which could [rest] a life-or-death judgement.

Sheppard added: “These assessments can result in [people having] their benefits cut.

“We know now that it is driving people to suicide and I don’t think a junior doctor should be put in the position of making that judgement.”

Last year it was revealed that nearly 90 people per month are dying after being declared fit for work.

A coroner also demanded that the UK Government take action to prevent future deaths of disability benefit claimants.

She concluded in a “ground-breaking” inquest verdict that a disabled man killed himself as a direct result of being found “fit for work”.

Black Triangle’s co-founder, John McArdle, said: “What is the point in having a piece of legislation saying the coroner should make a prevention of future deaths report when nothing is done about it?”

Both Sheppard and McArdle vowed to continue asking ministers questions until they received answers.