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South West pay consortium chief predicts other regions will copy model

The man leading the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium has revealed representatives of other NHS regions have approached him for advice on setting up similar groups to drive down workforce costs.

In a HSJ interview, Chris Bown, chairman of the 20-strong group of South West NHS trusts, said he had been contacted by managers who were investigating taking their own action to reduce workers’ pay, terms and conditions.

In his first in-depth interview since the consortium was created Mr Bown said trusts were becoming “increasingly frustrated” at the lack of progress on national negotiations to alter the Agenda for Change pay framework.

“Across England people from other trusts have contacted me to say ‘we will see how it goes with you but we are equally frustrated and we’re thinking about forming our own consortium’,” he said.

“Some have already had discussions about forming their own groups but are waiting to press the button until we know the outcome of the national negotiations.”

Mr Bown, Poole Hospitals Foundation Trust’s chief executive, warned that if the NHS’s pay bill was not reduced widespread job losses would ensue.

He said: “We can’t continue to maintain the same level of employees with the economic challenges we are all facing. We will need to reduce workforce even further in the NHS if we don’t do something else.”

But he accepted staff reductions could not go “beyond a safe level”. Without a deal on pay, terms and conditions “more trusts [would get] into financial difficulty and some might fail and that in itself is not great for high quality patient care”, he added.

Unions have reacted with anger at the consortium’s attempt to move away from Agenda for Change, which was agreed in 2004. Mr Bown denied there was a “conspiracy” between the consortium, the Department of Health and NHS Employers to undermine national pay negotiations for force unions to compromise for fear of less generous regional deals being imposed.

He said he had written to all 15 NHS unions in an attempt to engage with them over the group’s plans but all had refused to speak to the group.

A petition against the consortium has been signed by more than 20,000 people and a protest has already been held outside North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple.

Mr Bown said he understood unions’ concerns but added he could not see why they could not continue national negotiations while the South West drew up its own proposals.

“Employers are increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress on the national negotiations which have been going on for almost two years,” he said.

“If NHS Employers and unions can achieve a set of terms and conditions with flexibility that enables us to make the changes we need to then of course we would take that very seriously.

“But our view has always been that we need to continue to work in the background.”

Mr Bown said automatic incremental pay rises added £3m to the cost base of an average trust, even during the current pay freeze.

“We have to face up to these things. Trying to bury your head in the sand and not facing up to the realities just doesn’t get people anywhere,” he added.

The consortium has drawn up a list of 28 potential ways of reducing staff pay, terms and conditions including:

  • Cut annual leave
  • Additional activity sessions for doctors
  • Cut on-call payments
  • Increase working hours
  • End preceptorship rise for new band 5 staff
  • Cut incremental pay rises
  • Cut size of pay increases
  • Cut sick pay
  • Remove recruitment and retention premia
  • Cut redundancy pay
  • Stop short-term sickness payments
  • Cut sick pay for new staff and long term benefits
  • Cut use of temporary staff
  • End unsocial hours payments

Readers' comments (15)

  • "Pay peanuts."
    "Get monkeys and clock watchers."

    Second black economy jobs rocket - hospital by day care home at night.
    Tired staff, more errors, more compensation claims.
    Sickeness control one possibly beneficial idea.

    Let GP's earn ther salaries as already outsourced contractors and recharge them for unecessary hospital visits/treatments by their patients

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  • This is the price of people not grasping the local pay determination opportunity in the 1990s. Centralisation of pay for so many different labour markets is doomed to fail in the same way as the Eurozone. The heroic Trusts in the SW are trying to avoid the NHS being as bankrupt as Greece. We should support them and join the bandwagon!

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  • Reality starts to dawn. The world has changed and the NHS must change with it.

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  • The consortium has no statutory status and therefore can be justifiably ignored. There is no need for the unions to engage this cartel in any discussion whatsoever.

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  • I wonder how this will affect exec pay in the cartel hospitals?

    There was a reason why we went to national pay scales part of which was to take negotaition away from managers who simply do not have the experience to understand the consequences of such change.

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  • Short-sighted and unfortunately shows a lack of long-term consideration. May struggle to recruit and retain Doctors in training who will not move form national TCS and therefore see an increase cost for both recruitment and pay costs with a loss of deanery/LETB funding

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  • Talking his book, as they say...

    Was Mr Bown asked how he would respond to those who feel that a regional pay consortium might not be the best use of £200k of public money?

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  • The very existance of this group threatens the national talks that members claim to support.

    The issue is over funding not costs. THe pay structure for most of these staff is only 8 years old and fully fit for purpose unless you don't want to pay people for their time, to recognise their expertise and commitment.
    Despite holding a professional role in a very specialist area within the Heath Service and having over 20 years experience my reward package represents less than my window cleaner.
    Good luck to him , I'm the fool!

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  • Readers, and Chris Bown, should look back to the comments following a recent HSJ article on the same subject. These poured derision on the idea, questioned the morality of the mis-using of health-care funds, and demostrated that they are looking at an average 9% cut in wages.

    Why does Chris Bown think that the more he re-states his views the more his staff will like them?
    It is therefore not surprising the unions want nothing to do with him.

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  • I would keep it simple.

    Incremental drift is a big problem which creates inequity among people doing the same job.So get rid of pay increments.

    The prvate sector have endured pay cuts over the past four or five years. So cut the pay of the highest earners.

    Invest in real integrated workforce planning and design modern jobs to deliver modern services. If services are organised effectively you don't need to cut most of the conditions listed to get good results.

    Wider reforme of TUPE will help, although the fact that TUPE is used at all to transfer staff between NHS organisations is a nonsense.

    Some services also lend themselves to a more commercial, income generating approach, which may warrant a review of some pay and conditions.

    So I'm broadly in favour of this review.Sadly the trade unions always focus on preserving hard won pay and conditions rather than on initiatives which preserve jobs and create opportunities for the unemployed.

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  • What about nurses, allied health professionals and others in healthcare who it can hardly be claimed earn a kings ransom as it is? There is no point trying to relegate these healthcare staff into employed poverty to preserve jobs...they and their families would be better off seeking other jobs outside of healthcare. For some, they would be better off milking the benefit system!

    And terms of quality and future workforce planning...what quality individuals would enter a career in health when the prospects are and conditions are increasingly worsening. I appreciate the need for improved productivity and maximising the resources that are available...but all of these changes need to be considered in the context of their potential impact in 5, 10 and 20 years time.

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  • I worked for and with Chris Bown for years and he is not the hawk that some portray him and the consortium members in here. What he is however, is someone who takes seriously his responsibilities to find solutions to wicked issues like cost v income in provider organisations. His alternative would be to wait for the national solution, which will never come because noone has the balls and continue instead to preach quality gains, ignoring the cost of provision.

    Frankly, he wouldnt be earning his (admittedly considerable) salary if he didnt attempt to promote debate and generate options around this issue.

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  • "What about nurses, allied health professionals and others in healthcare who it can hardly be claimed earn a kings ransom as it is?"

    What about the 25% of unemployed youngsters who want a sustainable career, not an unsustinable job?

    I have no sympathy at all for the staff groups and professional bodies who made a complete nonsense of Agenda for Change while completely ignoring the KSF competency framework that was supposed to drive quality and better patient care.

    Our kids can only dream of the cheap education, the easy mortgage, a car and a decent job with a rising salary that most of us have enjoyed.

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  • "I have no sympathy at all for the staff groups and professional bodies who made a complete nonsense of Agenda for Change while completely ignoring the KSF competency framework that was supposed to drive quality and better patient care."

    I really don't see how making me lose my house will make it any eaiser for me to assist my children pay for their education now that the country.

    Perhaps if Trusts had engaged the KSF process and used the scheme instead of ducking it in return for an easier life we wouldn't be in this rediculous position now!

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  • People have short memories in their scramble to please the tory led government. All of the evidence clearly demonstrated that the last time the (former tory) government tried to introduce local pay (1990's so not that long ago) it was a complete failure! Let us have evidence based policy?

    On holiday in the South West (pay cut in real terms so cannot afford holiday abroad) everything was more expensive - petrol/ transport/ food in shops. Same in Wales - Petrol was 10p per Litre more expensive than the midlands. So, does that mean pay will be pushed up in the South West?

    Any one with an ounce of common sense will realise that local pay would only operate for lowest paid - Graduate workers will move elsewhere, so the RCN and UNISON are correct - staff will leave low paid employers and seek better paid jobs.

    Take a look at the cross-border migration between Ireland and Northern Ireland. higher paid staff are more mobile and they will move. NHS stands for National Health Service ....?

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