Health minister Anna Soubry has backed a consortium of 20 NHS trusts that are seeking to break away from Agenda for Change, saying they were taking a “mature and sensible” approach.
As MPs continue to debate regional pay in the NHS in the House of Commons today, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw secured a special debate this morning on the South West Consortium.
The group of trusts, referred to as a “pay cartel” by unions, has announced plans to break away from Agenda for Change and reduce workers’ pay, terms and conditions in a move which could affect around 88,000 NHS staff, including nurses and doctors.
During the Westminster debate, junior health minister Ann Soubry told MPs they had to trust NHS employers to exercise their “judgement wisely”.
But former health minister Ben Bradshaw said: “Never in more than 17 years in this place [the Commons], have I received so many letters and emails expressing such anger and such dismay as I have on this issue.”
He said one senior nurse from Exeter had told him her staff were at breaking point and she predicted a mass exodus. He said other nurses had told him they would leave the area or move abroad.
Mr Bradshaw added: “It is clear to me from the testimony of my constituents, loyal NHS staff, that even before this plan is even implemented just the discussion of it is having a devastating impact on their morale.”
The consortium’s plans, he said, would “inevitably” impact on patient care and the “whole thing had been handled extremely badly” by the trusts involved.
He accepted Labour had given employers’ flexibilities in Agenda for Change, but an explicit break with the national framework and wholesale adoption of regional pay was never intended.
In response, Ms Soubry said the government supported the “continued option” of national agreements.
But she added: “Every pay system needs to be kept under review to ensure it remains sustainable.”
She said smaller unions had already come out against any change and preferred to “stick their head in the sand”.
“There’s no point believing the government can wave a magic wand and make these financial pressures [facing the NHS] disappear,” she told MPs.
She said she believed the South West Consortium was taking a “responsible and mature approach”.
Asked by Mr Bradshaw if she supported the South West Consortium, she replied: “I absolutely support anybody who takes a mature and sensible approach to these matters.”
She said she understood the consortium’s frustrations over the two-year delay in national negations.
“We support national terms and conditions of service but not at any cost,” she added, highlighting the freedoms granted to foundation trusts to opt out of AfC by the previous Labour government.
Ms Soubry said: “We now have to trust the employers to exercise their judgement wisely, use the skills and expertise of their non-executive directors to consider what is in the best interests of their patients, to recognise what rates of pay are fair and necessary in their local communities.”
MPs were continuing to debate the threat of regional pay in the NHS in the Commons this afternoon ahead of a vote expected at around 4.30pm.