Nurses working for NHS Direct could have their shift patterns changed with just four week’s notice under plans being pushed through by management.
Individual restrictions, where staff can limit when they work, will also be scrapped under the changes being introduced following a three month staff consultation. Instead staff will have to opt in to one of seven fixed rota options.
NHS Direct say the changes are essential if the organisation is to survive when the 0845 number is scrapped in April 2013 and replaced with a new phone number for non-emergency calls NHS 111.
The service’s 1,683 staff, including 785 nurse advisers, also face working more weekends and bank holidays under the changes while part time workers will have to do at least 15 hours a week. Currently the minimum commitment is five hours a week.
Royal College of Nursing employment relations officer Gary Kirwan told Nursing Times this meant some staff would be forced to leave. He said the new power to change shift patterns with just four week’s notice was a “big problem” for members and although NHS Direct had promised they would try to give more notice where possible they had refused to budge on the timesacle.
However, he said there was understanding for NHS Direct’s predicament.
“We are not going to say we are happy but we are in a climate where other places in the health service are going through changes. This is NHS Direct’s strategy for survival by winning NHS 111 contracts,” he said.
A report to NHS Direct’s board meeting on Monday, where the changes were approved, said inefficient staffing was costing the organisation about £1.25m every month.
The report said this would make it difficult for the service to compete against other providers bidding to run NHS 111 services and ultimately “jeopardise job security” for NHS Direct staff.
The changes are due to be introduced by March next year.
NHS Direct chief nurse Tricia Hamilton said: “The changes will make us more flexible and efficient so that we can deal with the changing pattern of call volumes expected when NHS 111 is rolled out, and so that we can continue to be available at the times our patients need us most.”