There is mounting evidence that trusts across England are failing to observe mandatory pay increases for nurses in their first year of employment.
Newly qualified nurses from as many as five trusts have told Nursing Times that they did not receive two mandatory pay rises, after concerns over the issue were raised by RCN council members in February.
Anne Brandon, community staff nurse at NHS Somerset, said: ‘I have written to my manager and I have had a lot of hassle trying to get this money. I have been qualified for 18 months now and I am still on the first pay band – I am owed more than £1,000.
‘Every time I raised it, I was made to feel I was being a nuisance – I was made to feel I got it wrong. It is a lot of money,’ she said.
After being contacted by Nursing Times, NHS Somerset admitted that as many as 20 newly qualified community nursing staff may not have received their pay rises. It blamed administrative problems dating back to its creation through the merger of four smaller PCTs – a process which began in 2006.
A trust spokesperson said: ‘Regrettably this process did impact upon the speed by which the uplift policy was reviewed and was approved.’
Any staff with overdue payments should contact the HR department so they can receive the money, which will be backdated, the spokesperson added.
Other organisations where Nursing Times understands that nurses have had problems with the payments include West Hertfordshire PCT, Central Manchester University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Barnsley NHS. However, nurses at further trusts did not wish to disclose the identity of their employer.
The issue was also discussed last month at Unison’s Health Care Service Group Conference in Harrogate. A motion was passed calling for action from NHS employers to ensure all nurses received the payments, which they are contractually entitled to under Agenda for Change.
As a result union representatives have said they are seeking to discuss the issue as a matter of ‘urgency’ with NHS Employers, with a view to issuing trusts with new guidance on the matter.
The Agenda for Change contract states that ‘staff joining pay band 5 as new entrants will have accelerated progression through the first two points in six monthly steps – that is, they will move up one pay point after six months and a further point after twelve months – providing those responsible for the relevant standards in the organisation are satisfied with their standard of practice’.
The contract goes on to describe this 12-month period as ‘preceptorship’. This term appears to have been used by some trusts to avoid making the mandatory payments, as ‘preceptorship’ is also commonly used to describe non-mandatory mentorship schemes for newly qualified nurses.
Nursing Times understands that some employers mistakenly believe that if they do not offer such schemes they do not need to abide by the pay increases.
Mike Jackson, Unison senior national officer, said: ‘The Agenda for Change handbook is quite clear that they should be making progression along the pay bands after six months. But it appears there is inconsistent application of this by different trusts. We have raised this matter with employers via the NHS Staff Council with a view to agreeing some sort of guidance.
‘The next staff council meeting will be in May and we will be looking at our work programme for the coming year,’ he said. ‘We will be dealing with this as a matter of urgency.’
Gerry O’ Dwyer, RCN senior employment relations adviser, urged any nurses who had not received the payments to contact their employers immediately.
He said: ‘They should challenge the issue directly with their employer in the first instance and refer them to the Agenda for Change agreement. If they get no success there they should discuss the matter with a union steward. If trusts are not paying it they are trying to sidestep what has been agreed.’