Health minister Dan Poulter has signaled a shift in the government’s stance on the controversial South West Consortium during a debate in the Commons.
Dr Poulter criticised the 19 trusts involved in the consortium for their “heavy handed” approach. He also suggested that, should a national deal on Agenda for Change be agreed, the consortium should get behind it.
The group of 19 trusts is seeking to break with the national Agenda for Change framework in a bid to significantly reduce terms and conditions and save millions of pounds from the South West region’s paybill.
But last month unions and NHS Employers agreed draft proposals which, if adopted, would see a number of reductions in terms and conditions for many NHS staff. Unions are currently planning consultations on the proposals with members before any final decision to accept them is made.
The draft proposals prompted one member of the consortium, the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Foundation Trust, to pull out of the group.
Speaking during health questions in parliament on Tuesday, Dr Poulter was asked by John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, whether the recent progress in national talks made the efforts of the consortium “disruptive and pointless”.
In reply, the minister said: “We have had encouraging results from national pay negotiations at the recent NHS Staff Council, and unions are to consult their members on those results.
“There is general agreement that we need to maintain national pay frameworks, provided they are fit for purpose.
“I hope… the South West pay consortium, which has been somewhat heavy-handed in the way that it has conducted its affairs, also sees the benefit of maintaining national pay frameworks. That is why we would like to see a quick resolution of the matter at a national level.”
However, the minister re-iterated that the government was unable to intervene to stop the consortium because of the freedoms given to foundation trusts by the previous government.
He added: “If national terms and conditions are agreed to, I am sure they will be endorsed at a regional level by the South West consortium.”
Chris Bown, chief executive of Poole Hospital Foundation Trust and chair of the South West Consortium steering group, told Nursing Times the consortium was continuing with its plans at present.
He said a business case and detailed plans to reduce terms and conditions would be completed before the end of the year and considered by member trusts in early 2013.
He added: “We welcome the progress made on aspects of Agenda for Change and look forward to the outcome of trade union consultations.
“Once known, it will be for individual trust boards to form a view on the impact this progress will have on their organisations, whether that is here in the south west or elsewhere.”