WORKFORCE: Unions have threatened to challenge a south coast acute trust over plans to withdraw staff “recruitment and retention” payments worth around £0.5m a year.

More than 1,000 staff at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust are set to lose a £500 a year recruitment and retention premium.

The payment was originally introduced in 2002 as an incentive to registered nurses and allied health professionals at a time when the trust was experiencing difficulty with recruitment. It stopped offering the payment to new recruits in 2006 when the recruitment problems eased.

Currently 18 per cent of the trust’s 7,000 staff still receive the payment, the majority of whom are registered nurses and midwives. They received letters last week asking them to sign new contracts that would see them cease to receive the monthly payment of around £40 at the end of March.

Trust HR director Graham White said: “Ceasing this payment will reduce our pay bill by around £0.5m a year and remove an inequitable situation which has been allowed to remain for too long, and based on where we are today it is the right thing to do.”   

But unions have accused the trust of acting in a “shoddy way”. Local GMB organiser Gary Palmer said: “They sent out a letter intimidating employees into signing contract variations through the threat of job losses. This will not go unchallenged by the GMB and our members.”

Brighton and Sussex chief nurse Sherree Fagge acknowledged that many nurses were “upset and disappointed”. She said: “To those of you who will be losing this payment, I am genuinely sorry, but I am afraid we do need to keep making tough decisions in the interests of the long-term financial stability of the whole hospital.”

She also apologised that many nurses were not told about the move until receiving a formal letter from the trust.