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NHS working hours protections in doubt over 'Brexit'


Working hours protections for more than one million NHS staff could be in jeopardy in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, unions and employers have warned in the wake of yesterday’s vote.

Union leaders have said protections for staff on the Agenda for Change pay framework would be need to be re-examined and if necessary “contractualised” to ensure they are not lost.

They also warned that the economic impact of the referendum vote on overseas staff working in the health service. NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh stressed the need to make European staff feel welcome and valued in the NHS.

The referendum outcome has thrown into the doubt the future of the European Working Time Directive and its impact on the NHS. It will cease to apply if the UK leaves the EU and does not join the European single market.

The proposed junior doctors’ contract includes an average 48 hour working week and if that is adopted by the British Medical Association it will become a legally binding contract. However, the working hours for Agenda for Change staff are not protected by contractual rules.

Christine McAnea, chair of the NHS staff council and head of health at Unison, which had urged its members to vote “remain”, said limits on working hours would have to be improved.

“The European Working Time Directive would have to be contractualised for Agenda for Change staff,” she told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal on Friday.

Danny Mortimer cut out masthead

Danny Mortimer cut out masthead

Danny Mortimer

“We want an assessment of what are the terms and conditions that NHS staff have got that derives from European legislation and how do we ensure they are protected,” she said. “We need an analysis of that and whether they can be lifted and shifted into Agenda for Change. We will have to look at that.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “There are a range of employment and regulatory agreements that exist within the EU that impact on the people working in the NHS.

“We will consult with our members about these and will, working with our trade union and European office colleagues, assist the government and regulators to ensure that there is a careful settlement of these issues over the next two years,” he said.

Ms McAnea also raised fears over the economic impact of the referendum decision.


Unions welcome Francis proposals on whistleblowing

Christina McAnea

“There has to be a message going out straight away to reassure the 55,000 EU workers in the NHS that they are still a valued part of the NHS and assuring them that they are essential workers and are not going to be kicked out anytime soon and have a right to remain and work in the NHS,” she said.

She also raised the concern about the economic impact on overseas staff working in the NHS, saying: “If inflation raises and the value of the pound falls then particularly if they are using that money to support their families back home then the value of that money will go down.

“It puts the government’s pay policy in jeopardy,” she said. “They can’t maintain a 1% pay cap at a time when inflation is starting to go up. If this results even in a short term economic crisis and we go back into recession then the impact that has on the economy will have a massive impact on the NHS.”

A spokesman for the Royal College of Midwives, which also encouraged members to vote “remain”, said: “The RCM will redouble its efforts to safeguard its members’ employment rights, the status of the profession and women’s maternity entitlements and protections.

“We will also be seeking assurances about the position and future of the many valued EU citizens who work in the NHS,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing, which has remained neutral during the referendum, said it would ”continue to work closely with our sister nursing organisations across Europe as we have done for many years”.

“Once there is greater clarity, the RCN will take forward work to consider the impact of leaving for both nursing and the RCN, to ensure that the voice of nursing is heard in future negotiations to leave the EU,” it said.


Readers' comments (18)

  • michael stone

    I'm not convinced that the NHS itself isn't endangered by this vote, let alone staff working hours. I feel sure that a lot of the brexiteer politicians who were standing behind that 'we could spend an extra £350m a week on the NHS' line, would not have voted to establish an essentially free at the point of use and paid for out of general taxation NHS. And I think that many of those politicians, given the opportunity, would either destroy or 'privatise' the NHS.

    I've just said much the same, in a rapid response I've just minutes ago sent in to a piece about this by Margaret McCartney:

    At least Cameron did seem to support the NHS - as for his more right-wing replacements, John Major's 'hamster and python' line comes [worryingly] to my mind.

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  • michael stone

    That was quick - my BMJ comment has been posted by its Letters Editor inside about 30 minutes, and it can be found at:

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  • The European working time directive has been loosely applied, if at all, in the NHS. Where I work, we finish at 9 and are back on shift at 07:30 next day. When we complained, management told us it didn't apply to us.

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  • Your right the situation hasn't been getter for sometime. This Brexit scaring is about management rights so employees can't demand better and by that patients benefit as the central tenant. Guess what management you lose on this one and staff will demand better. NHS stop sending out scare mongering the masses are beginning to revolt. I think a lot of this vote was about fed up with being told what to do by the global business world, doesn't look good for NHS management but for the rest of it real change is coming.

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  • The Brexit was the shock of my life . I am really confused. Don't know what the future holds. It's all worrying. Where does the NHS stand.

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  • MICHAEL STONE24 JUNE, 2016 2:20 PM

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  • I have been canvassing my local area and door knocking asking people to vote REMAIN. It has been hard work but very rewarding, I listened to people's concerns and spoke of why, as an NHS worker, registered nurse, trade unionist, mother, part-time worker, a woman and as a British European, I wanted us to remain in the EU. I agreed with them that the EU needed to change, it needed to adopt policies more aligned to the social model of Europe rather than the corporate model that dominates at the moment. I said that we are better off being in on these debates, collaborating with our neighbours rather than putting up more barriers and isolating ourselves.
    People were on the whole, very receptive, they listened to me and respected my view. Some said it was refreshing to hear an 'ordinary' voice and lots of women were only too happy to speak and debate this issue with another woman.
    I live in a Labour heartland and I canvassed as a Labour Party member in my area. I did change and influence some of the people I spoke to and I believe if we could have had more of these conversations across Labour heartlands the result probably would have been different. My area voted to remain by a narrow margin - but it's too little and too late.
    Traditional Labour areas feel let down and disenfranchised, they don't recognise the Labour Party of today. To some, this was a protest vote, many were confused, many blamed immigration. They wanted to hear Labour's position and their arguments to stay, but for many, this came too late and without any real strength behind it. I do not believe everyone who voted leave did it out of malice, in fact, some people I spoke to who'd already voted, actually apologised and asked if they could revoke or change their vote.
    I'm now very concerned about our communities, about our NHS and about our fantastic overseas workforce. The British public have made their decision and we have to work with it. I worry about the EWTD and worker's rights, Agenda for Change does not cover some of these and as a UNISON member, I know my union will take whatever action is needed to get these rights adopted as part of our terms and conditions.
    Working in the NHS at this time is extremely challenging but we need to look out for each other, support one another and make our overseas workforce feel valued and wanted, whether from within or without the EU.
    I'll be honest, I've shed tears over this result today but now I'm over it, it's time to get organised, time to encourage our friends, family and workmates to join a trade union. But don't just join your trade union, get active, get active in your workplace and in your community. If there's one thing I've learned through all of this its not to be frightened of having the conversation, people like to be heard and like to be listened to.
    We'll get through this, we have to, the alternative doesn't bear thinking of. A week ago we came together in unity to remember an truly inspirational woman, Jo Cox, MP, I was fortunate enough to have met her and she had a knack of just understanding people. Jo knew we could achieve more through working together, dismantling barriers and offering bridges. I now worry about Britain and the very real fear that we may fragment even further still, Scotland calling for another Independence referendum and others will follow.
    What I am sure of is that we're entering uncharted territory with our main political parties potentially looking inward and the fear is that organisations like UKIP will make hay whilst Labour and the Tories are potentially imploding.
    One thing I am sure of is that I will continue talking to people in my local area and I will be taking their voices back to our elected representatives - they have been silenced for too long.
    Our NHS must remain free at the point of need, publicly owned and publicly delivered. The Brexiteers must be held to account over their promises on the NHS.

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  • "ANONYMOUS24 JUNE, 2016 4:34 PM

    The European working time directive has been loosely applied, if at all, in the NHS. Where I work, we finish at 9 and are back on shift at 07:30 next day. When we complained, management told us it didn't apply to us."

    I have complained and the manager adjusted the roster. Now, I will lose that (who knows, maybe I'll be asked to work till midnight and then turn on duty at 6AM. Why not??) WTD money also are going out of the payslip.I am circa 5% worst off already

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  • Any EU law is ratified by Parliament and therefore part of UK law. For such laws to be removed from UK law following EU-exit, they can only be done so by Parliament. Anything ratified by Parliament is now part of the UK. It does not matter if you are part of the EU. The question now, therefore, is what laws do we want to keep and what to forego? To retain any employment rights that are seen as vulnerable to change, the relevant unions and bodies must lobby; they must also seek information from political parties and their MPs as to what their manifesto would be. As this process will take some years to complete, and that EU-laws remain British since having been ratified, is it necessary to worry in this way? Take your time to work out what the profession needs, then take your point forward whilst the situation is not in immediate trouble.

    Why would people think EU law, having been ratified by Parliament into UK law, would cease with exit? Further EU-laws will not apply after a certain point. This is a basic understanding of law and democracy, surely? This issue has been discussed recently and regularly. Breathe, please.

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  • "Our NHS must remain free at the point of need, publicly owned and publicly delivered. The Brexiteers must be held to account over their promises on the NHS"

    And already that beacon of honesty and trustworthiness Farage has started backtracking:

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