The head of Nuffield Health, the charity that runs a chain of hospitals and gyms, is the highest-paid person working in the charity sector, according to research compiled by Third Sector.
David Mobbs, group chief executive of Nuffield Health, was paid an annual salary of up to £860,000 to run the health provider in 2011.
The London Clinic, a charitable private hospital in Harley Street in London, paid one senior executive more – about £1m – in 2011, but that person has since stepped down. The clinic declined to reveal his identity, but it is believed to be Malcolm Miller, its former chief executive, who resigned in September 2011.
The pay figures were taken from the annual accounts of the top 150 charities by income. The study found that 30 of the top 100 earners were paid more than £200,000 a year and nine were paid more than £300,000 a year.
The mean average pay across the top 100 earners was £208,000 to £216,000 a year. The median average was £165,000.
The study covered all types of charities, including private hospitals, professional bodies and housing associations.
The third-highest earner was Sir Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, who was paid £741,403 a year, followed by a senior executive at the Wellcome Trust who was paid up to £610,000 a year. The trust declined to name the individual but it is believed to be Danny Truell, its chief investment officer.
A spokeswoman for Nuffield Health said in a statement it was a large charity employing 11,000 staff that looked after 800,000 people a year. "No other healthcare charity in the UK comes close in size or complexity," she said. That's why we need to attract and retain the very best people to lead our work."
A spokeswoman for the London Clinic said in a statement that it was unable to comment on the salaries of people who had left but added that its current chief executive was paid £350,000 to £360,000 a year.
The Royal Opera House described Pappano as "possibly the world’s finest opera conductor" and said that the rates paid were comparable to other international opera houses.
The Wellcome Trust declined to comment.
Stephen Cook, editor of Third Sector, said: "The figures might seem surprisingly high to those who equate the word ‘charity’ with small, volunteer-based organisations. But some of the charities in question are as large, complex and professionalised as major corporations, and the levels of pay are market-led.
"The purpose of the survey is not to pillory higher earners but to cast more light on this part of the sector and promote debate about the nature and definition of charitable organisations, which are in part funded through tax breaks."
*Research by Tom Kenning