Minister to warn South West NHS bosses off "postcode pay" deal
MPs have claimed proposals to pay NHS workers in the South West a different rate to staff elsewhere in the country are "dead" after a health minister promised to intervene.
Daniel Poulter, Health Minister, is to write to NHS trusts and hospitals in the South West Pay Consortium, urging them to abide by national pay scales, MPs from the region have said.
It follows a Whitehall summit with the minister and a cross-party delegation of 14 MPs from the greater South West.
They are concerned the pay consortium, dubbed a "cartel" by unions, will lead to changes to pay rates, working hours, annual leave and sickness leave entitlement as staff terms and conditions are reviewed.
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MPs and unions have warned of "postcode pay" that leaves workers in the South West worse off than colleagues outside the region.
Former Labour Health Minister Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, told the Western Morning News the proposals were now effectively "dead".
Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives Andrew George, who sits on the Health Select Committee and led the delegation, added: "We asked the minister to write to the 19 health trust members of the Consortium to encourage them to now respect national negotiations.
"As a group of MPs we will also write to those trusts to urge them to stop their plans and to redirect their efforts to use the consortium for other purposes, such as the procurement of commercial goods and services.
"We expect that they will come back into line early next year; partly as a result of the pressure they are under, but also because we believe that they now recognise that varying nationally negotiated pay and conditions would be counter-productive as well as more costly and disruptive for the trusts, and to the detriment of patient care".
Mr Bradshaw went on: "We were all extremely pleased by the minister's response.
"He agreed to write to all the trusts involved asking them to respect the national talks and abide by a national agreement.
"That must, in effect, mean the South West pay cartel is dead and thousands of Westcountry NHS workers are getting an early Christmas present.
"Earlier the MPs were told by staff representatives that the South West cartel was jeopardising the prospects for a successful national agreement.
"It seems the minister now agrees with this analysis, which is very good news indeed."
On Twitter, Totnes Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who serves on the Health Select Committee, said: "Minister says 'we like national pay frameworks'. This is welcome news for the South West NHS."
The WMN has asked the Department for Health for a response.
Ministers have been unwilling to interfere since the proposals emerged this summer, and have been at pains to point out that it is a decision for local NHS bosses to make.
But Dr Poulter last week told the House of Commons he believed the proposals were "heavy-handed".
He told MPs: "There is general agreement that we need to maintain national pay frameworks, provided they are fit for purpose.
"I hope my honourable friend will find that the South West Pay Consortium, which has been somewhat heavy-handed in the way that it has conducted its affairs, also sees the benefit of maintaining national pay frameworks."
The consortium has said it will draw up a business case by the end of the year.
NHS bosses point out the service is under pressure from the biggest efficiency drive in its entire history, with trusts expected to find at least £20 billion in savings by 2015.
The South West grouping includes organisations running hospitals in Plymouth, Exeter and Truro. Twenty trusts were signed up but the Bournemouth and Christchurch NHS Foundation Trust recently withdrew.
Chris Bown, chairman of the consortium, said: "On behalf of the consortium I welcome the recent NHS Staff Council proposals to amend aspects of Agenda for Change terms and conditions.
"The consortium is encouraged by the commitment shown in ensuring national NHS terms and conditions are sustainable and fair.
"The consortium has placed on record its support for national negotiations, and I am pleased there is an acceptance between both the staff council and the consortium that terms and conditions must remain fit for purpose into the future.
"I look forward to the conclusion of the trades unions consultations and, should these proposals be agreed, anticipate consortium members support in implementing the national agreements."