Trusts will be encouraged to decide locally with nursing staff whether to freeze increments in return for increased job security, health minister Anne Milton has indicated.
Ms Milton drew heckles at the Royal College of Nursing congress today, when she insisted a national pay increments freeze rejected by the union would remain on the table at local level.
She told delegates that the country was “walking a financial tightrope”, and that difficult decisions would continue to have to be made.
“Pay restraint is one of those difficult decisions,” she said. “But the bottom line is that it does protect jobs.”
In the future, she said, “individual NHS organisations will be able to decide, in consultation with staff, whether to opt into the national enabling framework”.
Ms Milton said: “Opting in means no compulsory redundancies for Agenda for Change staff in bands 1 to 6, and as few as possible for all other staff, in return for a two-year freeze on incremental progression. It would mean 80% of Agenda for Change staff would be protected.”
Her words drew angry shouts of “no” from many on the congress floor. The deal, first suggested in December by NHS Employers, was rejected by the RCN and other unions in January.
Ms Milton, a former district nurse and RCN steward, pressed on: “I want each different area to make up their own minds about whether or not they want to do that – but the option is there to take up if you want.”
Following the speech, RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “That was the first we’d heard of that. It’s one of the things that was immediately noted, and we will have to follow through what all this means.”
He continued: “I think she was indicating that they still want to pursue this. Now we have to work [with] the service and the Department of Health to say as far as we’re concerned [an] increments [freeze] is off the agenda, and we have rejected it.”
Ms Milton also emphasised the role that nurses would have in commissioning services, but fell short of saying they would be guaranteed a place on the boards of GP consortia.
“There has been a lot of talk about GP commissioning”, she said. “It’s been portrayed as a bunch of GPs being put in the driving seat, but that is not at all how it will be.
“I know first-hand the unique insight that nurses have, and we want to use that insight, that knowledge, that experience, to improve commissioning. We expect to see a full range of professional input.”