NHS unions blast divide & rule plan

HEALTH Service unions have attacked proposals by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to pay NHS workers outside London and the south-east of England lower wages on the grounds that private sector pay in these regions is lower and the cost of living is lower.

Official documents reveal that the only exemption backed by the Department of Health would be for highly paid managers working in new bodies established to deliver Lansley’s controversial NHS reform programme.

The department, according to a submission to the NHS pay review body, believes special arrangements would be necessary for this new cohort of executives to “attract and retain high-calibre leaders and staff responsible for transforming delivery”.

Public sector union Unison said that regional pay in the NHS would be an unworkable, divisive bureaucratic nightmare.

The union is warning that the patience of health workers is running out with staff already hit by the pay freeze, job and budget cuts, a massive re-organisation caused by the hugely unpopular Health and Social Care Act and now the threat of damaging local pay cuts.

The current pay system, Agenda for Change, took many years to develop and implement and is recognised by all as the tool to deliver fair pay consistent with employment law and equality proofed.

It was brought in partly to solve the many problems associated with diverse and local pay. And yet here we are, before the system has bedded in properly, with another attempt to go local.

Christina McAnea, Unison Head of Health, said: “The Department of Health’s evidence on re gional pay is built on sand. For a Government that says it wants to cut paperwork, introducing regional pay would be a massively expensive, bureaucratic nightmare, designed to cause huge disruption and conflict.

“Regional pay would cause skills shortages in so called low cost areas with nurses, midwives and specialised staff being hard to recruit and retain, hitting the care of patients.

“The Government wants to introduce a market ethos into the NHS but most private companies abandoned regional pay scales years ago as divisive and unworkable.

“The NHS is already struggling to find billions in so called efficiency savings and with no extra money promised to fund higher cost areas, the money would have to come from existing budgets.”

There is no national “market” for health staff outside of the NHS and to pretend that staff like oc cupational therapists, cancer nurses, paramedics and operating department practitioners can be recruited in the same way as any other jobholder is simply misguided.

Many Liberal Democrats are also unhappy with the proposals. John Pugh MP, who co-chairs the Lib-Dem parliamentary committee on health and social care, said: “Not content with cementing the divisions between the north and south, Andrew’s proposals harden the divisions between the well-paid and the rest.

“This demonstrates his continuing, unfortunate talent for alienating the people he needs to rely on most: NHS staff.

“Regional pay proposals and the blinkered ideology that underpins it remains a red line for many Lib Dem MPs and risk provoking an enduring, embittering standoff within the coalition which will profit no one.”

Lansley’s proposals were a response to a call from Chancellor George Osborne in his recent budget for the public sector to be “more responsive to local pay rates” to help the private sector grow in economically depressed parts of Britain.

Osborne argued that public sector pay should mimic the private sector and be more reflective of local economic conditions.