Nearly half of nurses at a south coast hospital could lose “recruitment and retention” payments worth around £500 a year.
More than 1,000 staff at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust are set to lose the recruitment and retention premium.
Unions have threatened to challenge the move, which trust managers say will save the organisation around £0.5m a year.
The payment was originally introduced in 2002 as an incentive to registered nurses and allied health professionals at a time when the trust was experiencing difficulty with recruitment. It stopped offering the payment to new recruits in 2006 when the recruitment problems eased.
Currently 46% of registered nurses, midwives and nursery nurses still receive the payment – representing around 18% of the trust’s 7,000 staff.
However, staff received letters last week asking them to sign new contracts that would see them cease to receive the monthly payment of around £40 at the end of March.
Trust HR director Graham White said: “Ceasing this payment will reduce our pay bill by around £0.5m a year and remove an inequitable situation which has been allowed to remain for too long, and based on where we are today it is the right thing to do.”
But unions have accused the trust of acting in a “shoddy way”. Local GMB organiser Gary Palmer said: “The trust has not undertaken a fair process of consultation. Instead they sent out a letter intimidating employees into signing contract variations through the threat of job losses.
“This will not go unchallenged by the GMB and our members,” he added.
In her latest weekly message, Brighton and Sussex chief nurse Sherree Fagge acknowledged that many nurses were “upset and disappointed” by the trust’s decision. She said: “To those of you who will be losing this payment, I am genuinely sorry, but I am afraid we do need to keep making tough decisions, in the interests of the long-term financial stability of the whole hospital.”
She also apologised that many nurses were not told about the move until receiving a formal letter from the trust.
Ms Fagge added: “Personally, I feel very torn about the arguments for and against the withdrawal of this payment. On the one hand the very last thing we want to do is reduce people’s pay at a time when everything else is more expensive and when everyone is working so hard.
“On the other hand, I am sure that the people who don’t receive this payment work as hard as colleagues who do and it cannot be fair that there are nurses working side by side, one of whom receives this supplement and one of whom doesn’t.”