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University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust

Second hospital abandons staff sickness policy

WORKFORCE: A second hospital trust in the North West has ripped up a sickness absence policy under which nurses had pay increments withheld.

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University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust held back 427 increments in 2011-12, the highest number by a trust last year, saving it £236,000. In the majority of cases, increments were withheld due to poor attendance rates.

Under the trust’s sickness absence policy, staff undergoing its four-stage procedure for managing long term absence have their next increment deferred. Entry to the procedure could be triggered by three spells of absence in six months, 10 days’ absence in 12 months and four weeks’ continuous absence.

However, the trust has told HSJ that it has now reinstated the withheld increments and abandoned the policy. The decision follows a tribunal ruling against Central Manchester University Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Manchester had imposed rules whereby employees who were off sick four or more times a year, or for 18 or more consecutive days, would lose that year’s increment. It said it was withdrawing its sickness absence policy “with immediate effect” in February and was in discussions over how previously withheld payments could be reinstated.

In a message sent to staff on 4 April, managers at Morecambe Bay said: “The trust board have taken the decision that they do not wish to penalise staff for being staged under the trust sickness absence policy and have therefore reversed the previous decision.

“This means that all staff who have had their increment deferred in 2011-12 will have their increment reinstated and will receive their back pay as soon as possible – we are aiming for this to take place in May.”

The trust has reeled from a series of difficulties in recent months which culminated with the departure of chief executive Tony Halsall in February.

He left weeks after Monitor intervened to install a new chair at the trust following three separate reviews by the regulator that revealed a catalogue of leadership and governance failures.

Governance was deemed “inadequate”, “significant risks” were found in maternity wards and a backlog of 14,000 patients with overdue follow-up appointments was uncovered. The trust only won foundation status in 2010.

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