Foundation trusts have publicly signalled their intention to move away from nationally negotiated staff terms and conditions, which unions warn could increase “industrial disharmony”.
Unlike other NHS organisations, foundation trusts are allowed to negotiate local terms and conditions, if their workforce agrees, though only one – Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – has previously done so.
Until now, few of the other 137 foundation trusts have been willing to admit in public that they were considering locally negotiated changes to Agenda for Change.
But analysis by Nursing Times of documents setting out foundation trusts’ plans for the next three years show employers in at least three regions are considering moving away from Agenda for Change as part of efforts to make savings.
Mid Cheshire Hospitals FT’s plan said it was “working alongside other providers at a regional level to consider options to negotiate alternative terms and conditions” on areas including incremental progression and sick pay.
University Hospital of South Manchester Foundation Trust’s plan said from 2012 onwards its board will consider “proposals for changes to terms and conditions outside of the national framework”.
Meanwhile Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health FT said it would complete an options appraisal “regarding a move away from Agenda for Change”, as part of plans to save £2.6m a year on terms and conditions and staff allowances by 2014.
And in the South East, Royal Surrey County Hospital FT has recently polled staff to see if they would accept watering down national terms in exchange for fewer job cuts (news, page 4, 30 May).
In April, the Royal College of Nursing passed a motion backing a ballot for industrial action if an employer attempted to impose anything “which challenges the nationally agreed pay agreement”.
RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin said employers might achieve “short term benefits” in cost savings from moving away from Agenda for Change, but warned they may not understand the costs of “engaging in those kinds of discussions, with all their potential for industrial disharmony”.
Some trusts may also adopt other tactics. For example, Calderstones Partnership FT said it was setting up a “social enterprise” subsidiary, which will employ staff on non-NHS terms. From 2013-14 the trust aims to start switching its existing business contracts to the cheaper subsidiary.
Ms Irwin called the Calderstones plan “aggressive, threatening and crude”. A Calderstones spokesman said any changes would involve engagement with staff.