INTRODUCING regional pay and conditions in the NHS would lead to lower standards of patient care, a nurses’ union has said.
Scrapping the national agreement on terms and conditions in a bid to save money and jobs is the “wrong solution” to the challenges trusts are facing, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
The RCN issued the warning after 20 trusts in south west England joined a consortium that is considering a regional approach to cut costs.
In a briefing published yesterday, the College said the move would exacerbate inequalities and harm patient care, be bureaucratic and expensive to implement and result in a skills drain with staff moving away from lower-paid areas.
The RCN also argued the approach lacked economies of scale which would take money away from patient care.
Dr Peter Carter, RCN general secretary, said: “The cartel in the south west alleges that cutting terms and conditions of staff would save jobs.
“We say that is simply not true and what would actually happen is a skills drain as staff move away.
“Any trusts looking at such a draconian cost-cutting exercise should look again and think what this will mean to patient care.”
He added: “NHS organisations need to stop labouring under the illusion that regional pay is a panacea to their financial troubles.
“It is not. This would be a fool’s economy. It is the wrong solution to the challenges these trusts are facing.”
The RCN said it would be writing to senior managers at the trusts involved in the The South West Pay Terms and Conditions Consortium to raise its concerns.
The group was set up in June and recently published two discussion papers papers outlining financial pressures on the service and potential ways of saving money.
The consortium said a more “fit for purpose” system of pay and conditions, which includes longer working hours and cuts to annual leave, sick pay and on-call payments, could save more than 6,000 jobs.
Chris Bown, chair of the south west pay, terms and conditions consortium steering group, and chief executive of Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, welcomed the RCN report but said the group did not accept its view that standards of care would decline.
“The consortium believes that amendments to staff, pay, terms and conditions could be introduced that will support sustainable organisations, promoting job security and viable services whilst lessening the need for reductions in workforce or the quality of care our patients rightly expect from us,” he said.
“It is worth remembering that the consortium is also looking at ways in which pay arrangements may be enhanced for high performing staff members.
“We do not accept that any introduction of revised pay, terms or conditions will be followed by a wholesale exodus of staff from the south west, or a decline in the high quality care our patients receive.
“The consortium believes that the financial and operational challenges ahead cannot be met fully by further efficiency savings or service reconfigurations alone, opportunities for which are becoming limited.”
No proposals have yet been put forward, nor have any recommendations been made, he said.
“We remain fully supportive of the national negotiations on aspects of Agenda for Change,” he said.
“These national negotiations between employer and staff representatives demonstrate that there is a real need to look at the role pay, terms and conditions can play in supporting trusts into the future.”
A Department of Health spokesman reiterated that there were no plans to cut NHS pay and no decisions or proposals had yet been made.
“Trade unions have not reached a national pay agreement with NHS employers over the past 18 months, prompting the South West Consortium to begin open and transparent discussions with staff and local trade unions,” he said.