Published: 30/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5840 Page 4

Foundation trusts will be allowed to pay staff more than other NHS employers through higher recruitment and retention premiums and faster progression up the new pay bands, the final proposed agreement on the Agenda for Change pay system says.

The document, released this week along with around 100 job profiles, adds substantial detail to the outline issued in November and will give many staff an indication of where they will fit in the pay bands. Chapter eight lays down 'specified local freedoms' for foundations and 'other trusts with earned autonomy'. Foundations will be able to use these independently, while three-star trusts will be expected to consult with neighbouring employers.

Other trusts will 'be able to act only as permitted by guidelines' from the new NHS staff council and with the agreement of the strategic health authority.

The freedoms include awarding recruitment and retention premiums in excess of 30 per cent of basic pay - the limit for such payments elsewhere - accelerating staff progression up the pay spine, negotiating local arrangements for expenses, and offering alternative benefits packages, bonus schemes and 'additional non-pay benefits'.

Walsall Hospitals trust chief executive John Rostill, also a foundation contender, was keen to use the new freedoms.His trust already offers nurses a 'golden hello' of up to£2,000, while a neighbouring trust had written to individual cardiac nurses 'poaching them - so we know it happens.

This formalises the situation'.

Mr Rostill felt increased recruitment and retention premiums would be 'quite good for us', and said he would 'certainly advise' other local NHS employers of his intentions, though 'at the end of it, I wouldn't accept 'no'' for an answer.

But at three-star Homerton University Hospital trust, another possible foundation candidate, human resources director Frank McKenna said foundations would not have any extra money for such arrangements.

He added: 'We would be reluctant to skew the market in the north-east London sector where it would effect neighbouring trusts and poach their staff away. We want a common pay approach.'

Amicus research and policy officer Colin Adkins said the measures would 'further widen inequalities in the NHS'.

But Unison negotiator Paul Marks said recruitment and retention premiums would still have to be set in line with an annexe to Agenda for Change, while accelerated progression would only be within pay bands, not across them.

'That is hardly a big deal, ' he said.

The new documentation still leaves significant gaps, with many NHS jobs still to be profiled.

The knowledge and skills framework, that will be used to assess performance at gateway points to allow progression up the pay bands, has still not been finalised.

The timetable for implementing parts of the new scheme has also slipped. Trusts will now have until October 2006 to establish the knowledge and skills framework in the workplace - two years after full implementation is scheduled to start. There is also likely to be some drift in implementation, with trusts required to set an 'operational date' no later than six months after the October 2004 'effective' date.

The pay round is also running late, with the pay review bodies unlikely to make recommendations until June, when the unions will have delivered their verdict on Agenda for Change and the government's linked pay offer of 3.225 per cent a year for three years.

The Royal College of Nursing is set to recommend acceptance of Agenda for Change, but its council also 'registered its anger' with the 3.225 per cent pay offer.

Pay-band wait continues for managers Managers may not find out where they will fit into the new pay bands until the unions have decided whether or not to accept Agenda for Change.Few managerial jobs are included in the job profiles published this week, and though more profiles are set to be drawn up as the consultation period begins, managers' jobs will not be among them.

Unison negotiator Paul Marks said these jobs would be 'locally evaluated, jointly by staffside and management teams trained in the [new] job evaluation system'.