this week

Trade union and management-side negotiators are set to announce broad agreement on the outline of a new pay system for the NHS, which could be implemented in April 2001.

Six months of negotiations have produced a joint statement, agreed by the NHS Executive, employers and unions. Though still in draft form, it will safeguard the future of the pay review bodies and introduce a single negotiating council for other staff.

It also backs government plans for three pay spines to cover all staff, including doctors and nurses. But HSJ sources say the statement raises questions about exactly how different groups of NHS staff will be affected.

Controversially, the statement says that 'in time' the new system will cover all NHS staff, including those on trust contracts, those working for primary care groups and senior managers in primary care trusts.

The phrase 'in time' is seen as unacceptable by some sources because of the implication that primary care staff will be brought in at a later date. The new pay system should apply to all staff from day one, they say.

Sources say that the vexed question of whether terms and conditions should be set nationally or left to local negotiation is not resolved in the draft statement, begging the question of whether it will be acceptable to human resource managers or the pay review bodies.

Because such questions are still unresolved, there is concern about whether sufficient progress is being made to ensure the new pay system can be in place by the target date. 'Agreement needs to be reached at least six months beforehand,' one manager said. 'That is pretty ambitious.'

But the government is sufficiently encouraged to have told the pay review bodies last week that 'substantial progress' is being made in the talks . The draft statement addresses improved recruitment, equal opportunities and equal pay for equal value.

See news, page 5.