National talks on changes to NHS workers’ pay and terms and conditions could be close to a deal, HSJ has learnt.

Unions and NHS Employers, which represents health service organisations, have been engaged in negotiations for more than a year over alterations to the national Agenda for Change agreement.

Sources close to talks have revealed a draft agreement has been drawn up by unions, which if adopted would mark significant changes to pay and terms and conditions.

It is understood the draft will include proposals for incremental pay rises to be subjected to performance standards and see the loss of enhanced out-of-hours sick pay for most workers – two big wins for health services employers.

However, unions will demand a commitment that the bulk of NHS trusts and organisations will continue to back Agenda for Change as a national framework and also want increased protection against employees being “down-banded”.

A source close to the negotiations said all unions had been involved in the draft, which they described as the “least worst option”.

Under the draft proposals, HSJ has been told unions will agree to employers using performance as a tool to manage incremental pay rises. But instead of being based on local standards, which NHS Employers wanted, unions will demand a set of nationally agreed principles and protections is put in place.

Although unions will agree to the scrapping of enhanced out-of-hours sick pay, they will ask for protections for certain staff at lower pay points within Agenda for Change and those off sick due to work-related illness of disease.

New starters to band 5 staff would also only be eligible for one incremental increase in their first year, instead of the current two.

In return for the concessions, unions want stronger protections for staff subjected to job evaluation processes and re-profiling, with a national set of good practice rules and rights for staff adopted by the NHS.

The Staff Council will meet on 9 November when NHS Employers could accept the suggestions and make a firm offer to unions, which are expected to take the proposals back to their executives and members for consultation.

A source close to the negotiations said: “The draft is the employers proposals that have been refined, it’s not come from the trade unions. The unions view is that this is the least worst option.

“It is being talked about and it’s all up for debate and could still change but I’m very confident we will get a deal.”

Another senior union figure added: “The big prize for [unions] will be if this is enough to persuade the vast majority of NHS trusts to stick to Agenda for Change.”

But the source accepted NHS Employers could not give unions a commitment that no trust would seek to break the deal, because foundation trusts have independence on terms and conditions.

“We expect there will be a few rogue trusts that will still try but we will fight them on a case by case basis,” the source added.

Unions had warned they would walk away from a deal if local threats, such as that from the South West consortium of 20 trusts, continued to undermine the negotiations.

Unite has said it will make preparations for industrial action over the attacks to Agenda for Change.

Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea, who is chair of the union’s Staff Side Council, said: “Negotiations are continuing with employers. We have had a set of proposals from them and we are continuing to discuss the details.

“We are very keen to ensure as much as possible that Agenda for Change remains a national agreement and NHS employers continue to use it to employ their staff.”

She added: “Without a commitment to the future of Agenda for Change there is no incentive for us to reach an agreement.”