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Sickness absence in trusts' sights as incremental pay rises are squeezed


Incremental pay is to be be held back from nurses who fail to attend training courses or take too many sick days as trusts prepare for public spending cuts, Nursing Times has learnt.

NHS organisations around the country have been looking at ways to improve staff productivity, protect jobs and ensure annual pay rises are earned rather than treated as an automatic right.

Nursing Times has also found evidence that allowances are being scaled down, including recruitment and retention premia, overtime and on call payments.

As of this month, Royal Salford Foundation Trust has decided to defer incremental pay – worth an average of 3.25 per cent of salary on top of the 2.4 per cent headline increase for 2009-10 – for anyone taking more than 28 days of sickness absence a year.

If 56 or more days have been taken off sick in the past year due to illnesses not covered by the Disability Discrimination Act, increments will be deferred by 12 months.

Executive director of organisational development and corporate affairs David Wood said the rules were not aimed at reducing the pay bill.

He said: “Pay progression is a reward, not a right. We believe these increases should be awarded for better performance.”

Nurses who fail to attend mandatory training sessions or are subject to disciplinary procedures will also lose their right to an incremental pay rise.

Mr Wood said the trust was investing in e-learning tools and all staff would have the opportunity to take up training opportunities. The changes will only apply to new starters and voluntary contract changes.

Unison senior national officer Mike Jackson said: “They should be managing sickness absence, not penalising people through pay.”

A Unison steward at Kettering General Hospital also told Nursing Times the trust was redrafting its human resources strategy to spell out that increments will not be handed out by default.

It is also scrapping long-term recruitment and retention premium for new staff and considering introducing a “passport to practice” setting out minimum training standards for clinical staff.

A board report says the trust is also reviewing on-call arrangements and overtime payments.

Chief executive Mark Newbold said: “On annual increments we are not deviating from Agenda for Change terms and conditions of service, and the HR strategy will reflect this.”

Meanwhile Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust is facing a £200,000 funding shortfall due to cost pressures caused by increments, which commissioners hope will be solved through changes to staffing and case mix, board papers show.


Readers' comments (6)

  • What a good idea. I am a ward manager and am fed up with people taking sick leave for the most spurious of reasons. Sickness management takes up a lot of my time that could be better spent on other things. The main problem is that it is so difficult for any disciplinary action to be taken, it can take years to get rid of people who abuse the system. To have their increment deferred would definitely provide a deterrent to taking sick leave, though I think 28 days a year is way too much. In our trust we start informal action after 4 episodes of sickness.

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  • I agree with the above comment if sick leave is 'spurious', & yes our absence management procedure starts after 4 short-term or 1 long-term (4 weeks) too, but like the Unison rep says there's a difference between appropriate absence management and penalising people who aren't abusing the system. I'd love to see the precise wording of the plans - what about the nurse who misses their mandatory training as the ward can't release them (due to workload, other absence, emergency or whatever)? What about the person who happens to have major abdo/ortho surgery in that year & has 3 months off (if they've lost out on enhanced performance/experience presumably anyone on mat leave etc has too)? People who suffer back injuries that keep them off for more than 6 weeks, but not the 12 months for DDA cover? Work-related stress (even though organisations should have a policy for that too) is yet another case in point. The list could go on.
    As with any scheme, the devil is in the detail. This risks penalising the genuinely ill, or somehow giving different levels of validity to different illnesses. I'd far rather have a colleague who's present, but when ill is off for a while as it's genuine/serious than the erratic attendee - manage those situations under absence management with penalties if required, & don't penalise those who've given their all until they reach breaking point.

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  • I totally agree with the above comments. What about permanent bank nurses? Some Trust does not provide funding for menditory studies for their inhouse bank nurses. In my Trust I was told there are 150 of us on the registra. They are not checking up on us. Money has taken precedence of safe practice.

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  • I find it incredulous that yet again a system comes into place for the people at the delivery end of care are finacially penalised when a chief executive of a trust 'irrespective' of performance can still get their 'Golden Handshake' of thousands of pounds on retiral or removal from their post.. C'mon colleagues lets look at those costs to the NHS as saving measures too...
    Perhaps we should look at the effects of unrealistic 'HEAT' targets on morale and stress... reduced staff levels and ongoing low morale as triggers for 'spurious' sickness add reduced pay to the equasion and I think it exacerbates the problem. I believe that Pay in line with inflation is a right not something to be 'earned'. A performace related reward should be just that additional reward to basic pay. Let's not support the further fiscal impoverishment of our profession and the NHS in general.

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  • As a sister on a busy acute elderely care ward i believe there should be much stricter regulation on sickness and absences. Its always the same people that are off and if everyone was in work who should be in work my ward would be alot better managed. i dont understand how someone can be off sick for 12 months it is quite obvious that that person is not equipped to do the job. managers should be taking action after ten days sickness throughtout a 12 month period. it would not happen in the private sector.

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  • Everyone gets fed up with those who have sickness records that would embarrass participants on the Jeremy Kyle show, but if we think it is bad now, new legislation from the 1st October will actually make it illegal for employers to ask health questions at the pre-employment stage. This makes this new initiative of preventing automatic incremental rises all the more important. The mandatory training aspect is also an important step forward, especially as this is linked to achieving targets linked to the NHSLA/CNST costs. Getting mandatory training sorted out efficiently across a Trust can end up saving a few million in litigation contributions.

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