The South West “pay cartel” is forging ahead with plans to break away from nationally agreed terms and conditions, despite growing threats and protests from unions, Nursing Times has learnt.
The 20 hospital trusts in the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium have agreed to continue exploring local changes to staff terms and conditions. Nursing Times has learnt members of the consortium – dubbed a “cartel” by unions – endorsed its aims at their latest meeting in September and will press on with the group’s work.
The move comes in spite of repeated warnings from unions that the consortium’s continued existence risks the collapse of national negotiations on Agenda for Change with NHS Employers, which represent NHS organisations and is negotiating on behalf of the government.
The union staff-side council wrote to trusts in the consortium last month, demanding they suspend their involvement with it. The council has warned it could walk away from the long-running national talks unless the consortium gives a commitment to halt its plans. However, unions are yet to set a deadline after which they will act on this threat.
Ending national talks would potentially dash hopes of an agreement on incremental pay rises and unsocial hours sick pay, which is seen as a crucial part of helping the NHS meet its daunting efficiency targets.
A Unison spokeswoman said some trusts in the consortium had responded to the staff-side letter. He said: “We will be reviewing the situation when we have a clearer picture.”
Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing, said she would be “concerned” if the consortium continued without taking into account the views of unions.
She said: “The national discussions are continuing on the basis of two caveats. One that there is a clear commitment from the employers to the national framework and that there is a positive response from the 20 South West trusts to the staff-side letter.”
The next meeting between unions and NHS Employers is set to take place in October.
Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said it was important all parties “keep a perspective” on reaching a national deal. He said: “It is essential we have mature discussions and put patients first.”
Nursing Times understands around 40 senior managers from the consortium met on 18 September.
Chris Bown, chief executive of Poole Hospital Foundation Trust, who is leading the consortium, said: “Attendees reaffirmed the unprecedented challenges facing the NHS in the South West.
“The view that amendments to pay, terms and conditions simply must be considered if trusts are to remain viable employers and service providers in the years ahead was also further endorsed.”
He said the group would continue to try and engage with unions and re-iterated the hope the national talks would produce “fit for purpose” changes to terms and conditions.
The consortium is working on the preparation of a business case to be completed by the end of the year, which will make recommendations on how trusts in the South West could save money. It has previously revealed a list of 28 ways savings could be made, including reducing annual leave, pay increments and sick pay benefits.
However, local union members protested against the consortium outside North Bristol Trust last Thursday and handed over a petition signed by over 2,000 staff, calling on the trust to withdraw from the group.
Meanwhile, a similar petition signed by more than 1,600 staff working at Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust was handed to the trust’s chair Ros Wyke last Wednesday.
A national e-petition calling for ministers to take action to stop the South West Consortium has so far attracted 22,300 signatures.