The Royal College of Nursing has written to the government calling on it to retract a new rule preventing NHS nurses with permanent contracts from doing agency shifts at neighbouring trusts.
Anger has been mounting among members of the profession ahead of the introduction of the new rule in England from 1 April, as reported by Nursing Times over the past week.
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NHS staff were recently informed that the regulator NHS Improvement is to ban NHS providers from employing any agency workers who hold substantive roles at other trusts.
The move means permanent nursing staff wanting to do extra shifts will have to be employed through the trust’s staff bank instead.
The RCN criticised the move in a statement issued on 22 March and has now sent a strongly-worded letter to the government calling for the rule to be rescinded.
It has also issued advice to members and local reps, encouraging them to find out if their employers are implementing the ban and report back to their local RCN officer.
In her letter to health minister Philip Dunne, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said she was writing to “express the anger” of the college about the new rule, especially in light of the continuing 1% freeze on NHS pay rises announced earlier this week.
Ms Davies said: “What this instruction means for nursing staff is that that a time when wages have been held down… the government is about to make nurses’ financial situation even worse.
“For many NHS nurses the only way to ensure a decent level of income is to undertake additional work through an agency,” she said. “They would not have to do this if NHS pay had kept pace with inflation.”
“I am calling on you to please now rescind this instruction with immediate effect”
She stated that the suggestion that nursing staff could, in future, only work extra hours through their trust’s bank or overtime was “bordering on the absurd”.
Ms Davies noted that banks had a “poor record of paying nurses the correct level of remuneration” for the skills required for working extra shifts, and that “very few” NHS employers paid overtime.
She claimed the new crackdown on working additional shifts for agencies was “unfair, punitive and picks on those who have no alternative but to seek extra work through an agency”.
She warned Mr Dunne that the RCN had advised its members that they were “free to work for whomsoever they wish to” and that it would continue to challenge “this unfair infringement” of their “freedom to earn a decent income”.
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“I am calling on you to please now rescind this instruction with immediate effect,” she said in the letter (see attached PDF below).
Meanwhile, Ms Davies added that another new restriction on self-employed workers operating through limited companies had “been most unhelpful” and had “created a degree of anxiety for members that could easily have been avoided”.
A snapshot survey of nurses reveals the depth of anger, frustration and even “despair” felt by those likely to be affected by a new ban on permanent NHS staff doing agency shifts, say campaigners.
Many nurses predicted they would be forced to leave the NHS and some have already quit, reveal interim findings from the online survey shared exclusively with Nursing Times.
The Department of Health has been asked whether it wants to respond.
RCN advice to members (22 March 2017)
Staff are entitled to make whatever employment/bank/agency arrangements suit them and their families. The RCN supports the right of nurses with a substantive NHS contract to choose how they work any extra hours.
Employers should not be using “bank arrangements” to deprive staff of their full entitlement to overtime under Agenda for Change – which undermines their national conditions of service.
NHS staff are entitled to overtime pay for working in excess of their contracted hours and should insist on this. They should not be forced to work on a hospital bank and not accept poor pay on the bank.
Members should not undertake extra hours without confirming in advance how they will be paid – for example, overtime pay.
Members should ask to be paid overtime rather than being offered time off in lieu.
Members should ensure that if they are happy to work on a bank basis they are paid at least their substantive rate for their job plus any overtime – they should not work bank hours for pay less than their substantive grade.
The RCN will be advising local representatives to lodge disputes with trusts intending to prevent members from working in their own hospitals through agencies just because they have substantive NHS contracts.
Source: RCN website
RCN advice to reps on agency ban (23 March 2017)
The RCN will work with reps on any disputes arising from plans to prevent NHS staff working agency shifts.
The plans would prevent any member of staff in England with a substantive NHS contract from doing agency shifts at their own or any other NHS trust.
The RCN has condemned the lack of consultation over the ban and says members should be free to work in ways that suit them best.
NHS Improvement wrote to trusts last month advising them of the new arrangements but neither the RCN nor the NHS Staff Council agreed the move and there was no consultation.
The RCN will be advising reps to lodge disputes with trusts intending to prevent members from working in their own hospitals through agencies just because they have substantive NHS contracts.
Reps are encouraged to find out if their employers are implementing the ban and report back to their local RCN officer. The RCN will keep reps informed of further developments.
Source: RCN website