Nurses would be offered immunity from redundancy if they agreed to have their Agenda for Change pay increments frozen under secret foundation trust plans.
Nursing Times is aware of foundation trusts across the country that are working on proposals to prevent staff from automatically moving up the Agenda for Change pay scale, or are lobbying the government to implement a national freeze.
“If we have a demoralised workforce, performance will suffer, quality will suffer, so it’s up to nurse leadership to make sure that doesn’t happen”
The increments are worth an annual 2.9 per cent increase to a nurse at the bottom of band 5 of the pay framework. This is on top of the inflation linked pay rise worth 2.25 per cent in 2010-11, which drops to zero next year.
Foundation trusts claim the increments cost them £360m a year - equivalent to the wages of 10,900 staff. The figures would be roughly double if all hospital and mental health trusts were included.
However, only foundation trusts are allowed to set their own terms and conditions.
Unison senior national officer Mike Jackson said stopping increments would be a breach of contract.
He warned: “A mixture of legal action and industrial action would follow. This is not a way to proceed.”
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One trust, which spoke to sister magazine Health Service Journal anonymously, is proposing to offer staff job guarantees if they forego increments.
Beachcroft solicitors employment team partner Guy Bredenkamp confirmed such a move would be legal.
However, he added: “To introduce a freeze, you’d need either a national agreement or a local agreement with staff side.
“This presupposes agreement with the unions. There’s absolutely no sign that would be forthcoming.”
Queen Margaret University professor Jim Buchan also had reservations, saying the plan would put nurses under “undue pressure to sign up to something that otherwise they wouldn’t wish to” and would be “quite divisive”.
However, the chief executive of a foundation trust said he was prepared to “push the button” on increment freezes.
As revealed in Nursing Times last year, some trusts are already restricting incremental pay to staff who take too many days off sick or fail to attend mandatory training sessions.
Alison Leary, University College London Hospital Foundation Trust Macmillan senior lecturer in oncology, said senior nurses should resist attempts to withhold pay.
She said: “If we have a demoralised workforce, performance will suffer, quality will suffer, so it’s up to nurse leadership to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Foundation trust plans to freeze staff pay emerged as the BBC Panorama programme and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published data revealing more than 26,000 NHS bosses earned more than £100,000 a year.
Nursing Times’ analysis of the data found the highest paid nurse managers are more likely to work at foundation trusts and were disproportionately men.
Only 63 of the 26,000 highest NHS earners in the list are directors of nursing, executive directors of nursing or chief nurses.
More than half of those were employed by acute foundation hospital trusts and only 16 came from non foundation acute trusts. There were four strategic health authority nurse managers and four employed by primary care trusts.
Among the high earning nurse managers whose gender was known, 23 per cent at acute trusts were men, even though men make up just 8 per cent of the acute nursing workforce. This adds weight to a Nursing Times investigation that found men were disproportionately represented in top nursing jobs.