MPs are due to debate the threat of regional pay to the NHS and the actions of the South West “pay cartel” this week, in a move designed to spark action from the government.
As part of a Labour Party debate in parliament on Wednesday, politicians will vote on a motion highlighting the growing threats to Agenda for Change. It will also call for the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium of 20 trusts to be stopped from leaving the national pay framework.
The debate comes as more trusts have threatened to break away from the national pay structure. North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is planning to sack 5,452 staff on 31 March and re-employ them on reduced terms and conditions.
However, some trusts have also stated their commitment to the national deal, meaning the NHS is facing growing fragmentation over terms and conditions.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told Nursing Times that next week’s Commons’ debate was aimed at “flushing” out the government’s position on NHS pay. “There is growing confusion about government policy on regional pay and we need to have some definite answers,” he said.
“National pay is a key plank of the NHS, it is the glue that holds the whole system together and the government has failed to step in and make its position clear,” he added.
Mr Burnham said the South West Consortium had “emboldened other trusts around the country”, which were now starting to adopt a similar approach. He warned that regional pay would cost more and disproportionately affect deprived areas.
Labour would seek “common cause” with Liberal Democrat MPs in the debate and vote, he said.
The former health secretary denied the threat to national pay was a direct result of freedoms given to foundation trusts by the previous Labour government.
Mr Burnham said: “There were freedoms but they were for use at the margins for individual circumstances, not the wholesale opt-out of Agenda for Change.
“If this is a loophole that trusts are using we will seek to close it [if Labour is returned to power at the next election],” he said.
He said he also planned to review legislation surrounding foundation trusts in the light of the Francis Report into the scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which is expected early next year.
Meanwhile, unions are consulting on what action to take to oppose regional pay, according to Christina McAnea, chair of the Staffside Council and head of health at Unison.
She told a nursing seminar in Birmingham last week that she calling on members to suggest forms of protest short of striking, because she was aware many healthcare workers were “nervous” or “reluctant” about taking industrial action because they feared the impact it would have on patient care.