Staff working for NHS Direct in the North East are being asked to take a pay cut if they want to work for the new NHS 111 service, Nursing Times has learned.
The non-emergency telephone number is set to replace NHS Direct from the end of March next year, meaning staff who opt not to take on the role could be left facing redundancy.
North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust and Northern Doctors Urgent Care Ltd, who have been awarded the contract for the north east region, are defying Department of Health orders to take on NHS Direct staff on their existing pay terms and conditions.
Instead NHS Direct nurses, currently on band 6, are being asked to volunteer for roles paid at a band lower. They have been given three days to decide if they want to go over in the first wave and two weeks to decide if they want to move over in the second wave. If no staff move over in the first wave the 4.5 full time equivalent posts will be advertised on the open market.
Royal College of Nursing regional officer Martin O’Neill told Nursing Times staff had been let down by all of the organisations involved.
“I think it’s absolutely shocking. Staff have been treated shoddily by all of the organisations involved, including the department of health who should have thought about the staff implications earlier.”
Former health secretary Andrew Lansley announced the intention to roll out NHS 111 nationwide in 2010 but it was not until October 2011 that NHS Direct secured agreement from the DH that its staff would transfer to the new providers with their terms and conditions protected by Cabinet Office Guidelines.
By this point procurement for the service in the north east region was already well underway and NEAS is refusing to accept staff under existing terms and conditions without extra funding.
Mr O’Neill said providers of NHS 111 elsewhere in the country had agreed to a transfer staff under the current terms and conditions. He called for the lead commissioners in the north east, NHS County Durham and Darlington, to fund pay protection for affected staff.
One affected nurse told Nursing Times that NEAS had not provided any terms of employment, information on roster patterns or job descriptions to help nurses make a decision.
She said: “My choices are stark - volunteer for a lower paid job, without seeing any information on the role, or remain with NHS Direct and be made redundant in June next year and I have three days to make that choice.”