The NHS Pay Cartel – regional pay by the back door

Christina McAnea

The Olympic opening ceremony rightly celebrated the NHS in all its glory.

as a national treasure and as something we need to fight for. More than 600 nurses and NHS staff were included in the spectacle on the insistence of director, Danny Boyle. He went one step further in the rehearsals where, as well as urging the audience not to spoil the surprise, a message was flashed on screen saying “Don’t spoil the NHS”. I am sure that Lansley and co would know just who it was aimed at.

The pressure from the Government on Trusts to find £20bn in so called “efficiency” savings, coupled with the massive upheaval and disruption caused by the Health and Social Care Act, is putting the whole NHS under strain.

At a national level employers have worked up, at the request of the government, a set of proposals to alter Agenda for Change– the agreement covering the pay, terms and conditions of NHS staff, with the exception of doctors and dentists. These proposals are currently out for consultation with UNISON members, following which further discussions with employers are already scheduled for early autumn. But these negotiations are now being put under threat by a rogue NHS cartel.

20 Trusts across the South West have decided to break away by storming ahead with their own radical changes to local staffs’ pay and conditions. These plans threaten to usher in a new era of industrial unrest and discontent among nurses and other healthcare staff, as well as undermining the quality of patient care across the whole region.

The activities of the consortium are both premature and draconian.  There has been signs recently, particularly among livberal Democrat MPs, that the is back-pedalling from the disastrous notion of regional pay. At the same time, these South West proposals appear to be introducing regional pay by the back door.

Documents obtained by UNISON through Freedom of Information requests demonstrate that the consortium is aware of some of the consequences.  Their project document states that their work is ‘not without risk, in terms of legal challenge, industrial unrest, impact upon staff morale and engagement and reputation management’. You would think that that would have been enough to make at least some of the Trusts think again?

However, in identifying these risks, we don’t think they have fully taken into account the scale of the anger of NHS staff or the likely impact on patient care and on NHS services. Over the years the NHS has suffered from staff shortages, particularly specialist staff, so what is there to keep them in the South West when they can earn more at a Trust outside the cartel? And if that happens it is patients who will be the losers.

UNISON is fighting these plans every step of the way and has already held a meeting in Parliament to brief MPs from across the region. But we need to build support across the region and across the country:

  • Contact your local MP and voice your concerns around the SW Pay Cartel and the impact it will have on the NHS.

Christina McAnea is Head of Health for UNISON

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