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Kent trust denies that it is going to withhold sick pay over flu jab

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A hospital trust in North Kent has refuted widely reported claims that it had decided to change sick pay arrangements, including measures to encourage more of its staff to have the annual flu jab.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust said today that it had “discussed” making changes to sick pay but had previously chosen not to go ahead with them.

“We would like to apologise to our staff who may have been upset or unsettled”

James Devine

Unions put out a joint statement on Thursday saying the trust had told them it would be scrapping national terms and conditions around sick pay and that “harsh new conditions will be imposed”.

The new regime included withholding sick pay for the first three days of absence and thereafter every other month would be half pay, they said.

The trust also said that staff who did not have the flu jab would be refused sick pay should they fall ill with influenza, according to the statement from the unions.

The unions, including Unison, Unite, the GMB, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives labelled it an “appalling insult to staff”.

“It is extremely disappointing and surprising that an entirely inaccurate and inflammatory press release was issued”

James Devine

In a statement responding to the union criticism, trust deputy chief executive James Devine said: “The trust discussed a number of potential workforce initiatives, including changes to sick pay for new or future staff, with the joint staff committee.”

He said such discussions with staff representatives were “normal procedure and an important way of obtaining feedback”.

“Following further consideration and discussions with trust staff, a decision was made by the executive team that the trust would not pursue any changes to sick pay,” said Mr Devine.

“It was felt they would not be in the best interests of staff,” he said. “Trade unions were notified on Wednesday of this decision.

He described it as “extremely disappointing and surprising, that despite these assurances, an entirely inaccurate and inflammatory press release” was issued by unions.

“We would like to apologise to our staff who may have been upset or unsettled by information being released that is categorically false,” he added.

“We have made it clear to the employer that we will fight this plan”

Daniel Heppell

In the union release, which was issued yesterday, Daniel Heppell, RCN officer for Kent, said: “At a time when the trust needs to urgently recruit new nursing staff, changing the national terms and conditions to something significantly worse than that of neighbouring employers is naïve and simply not thought through.

“We have made it clear to the employer that we will fight this plan and urge them to really think about the impact this will have on staff who are already stretched to breaking point,” he said. “Nurses are human too and will get inevitably get ill.”

Graeme Hendry, Unison rep and staff side chair at the trust, said: “We are not prepared to accept any proposal which penalises staff for being unwell.

He added: “Hardworking staff are the backbone of the trust, providing patient care under extremely difficult conditions.”

“It’s time call out this despicable move by Medway NHS Foundation Trust”

Kathy Walters

Unite regional officer Kathy Walters said: “It’s time call out this despicable move by Medway NHS Foundation Trust as yet another kick in the teeth for hard working, low paid NHS staff.

“We wholly oppose any such detrimental move away from nationally agreed NHS terms and conditions on sick pay and view this attack with contempt,” she said.

In September, NHS leaders issued a stronger message than usual to health service staff in England on flu vaccination, following last year’s spike in cases.

All frontline health service staff in England were told that they were “expected” to have an influenza vaccination. However, leaders stopped short of making it compulsory.

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