Nurses and other NHS staff are being given until the end of October to decide whether they want to leave their jobs in exchange for up to a year’s salary.
There are concerns the scheme will lead to an exodus of senior nurses from the NHS, reducing the experience and knowledge it can retain.
“They will soon have a health service run only by healthcare assistants and domiciliary care staff”
The “mutually agreed resignation scheme” would allow nurses to receive up to a year’s salary if they choose to resign, compared with up to two years under NHS compulsory redundancy terms.
Nurses will have from mid September to the end of October to decide whether to apply.
Trusts are being asked to set up panels consisting of finance and human resources directors, plus one other director of their choice, to decide which applications are approved.
It is not yet clear how much sway directors of nursing will be given in making decisions.
The Department of Health said the scheme was designed to maintain a stable workforce as strategic health authorities and primary care trusts were wound up and commissioning was passed to GP consortia under the white paper’s reforms.
But the October deadline for the scheme means that nurses in organisations set to be abolished will have to make their choice before the parliamentary bill dissolving their organisations is passed - something nurses told Nursing Times was “senseless” and “unethical”.
The deadline has also been set in advance of any details on how staff working in public health functions at PCTs will be transferred to councils.
Anne Duffy, director of the Community and District Nursing Association, said it “didn’t make sense” to ask nurses to decide whether to leave their roles before they knew how they fitted into the new arrangements.
Ms Duffy said the attempt to cut the workforce was unacceptable and she envisaged it would be senior nurses that employers would allow to leave.
“It’s a disgrace when you think of all of the education and the professional development, and the billions that have been spent on training staff over the years. It’s the most senior staff that they are - and will be - letting go,” she said.
“They will soon have a health service run only by healthcare assistants and domiciliary care staff.”
Sheila Urquhart, a mental health nurse at Bradford District Care Trust, said asking nurses to make a decision in such a short space of time and before the effects of the reforms were clear was “unethical”.
Both Ms Duffy and Ms Urquhart expressed concern that a large number of nurses could be attracted to the scheme but find it hard to secure employment elsewhere.
Ms Urquhart said: “What I would be concerned about is the number of nurses who might be really tempted by this without thinking it through properly. If they are over 50 they might have a difficult time getting another job.”
However, Ms Duffy said she was not aware of anyone who had received a two year salary payout and the resignation scheme might offer a higher sum to many professionals.
She said: “I would imagine that quite a lot of nurses would be attracted because of the pressures that they are working under, but there’s a high percentage who are the main breadwinner and will there be any other jobs out there?”
Ealing and Harrow provider services nurse consultant Linda Nazarko said the number of nurses applying for the voluntary scheme might depend on the level of morale locally. The reforms could lead to new opportunities, she added.
“Lots of people might be tempted but they will be asking ‘is there somewhere else I can work?’ For most, the NHS is the only place in town. But if that will remain so under the reforms and the opening up of the service to the private sector remains to be seen.”
A DH spokeswoman said it was up to local organisations to decide whether to implement the scheme.
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