Published: 24/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5825 Page 8

A contender for foundation trust status has pledged not to use increased freedoms to widen local pay differentials which could suck much-needed staff away from its local health partners.

Under foundation trust proposals, trusts could offer recruitment and retention premiums in excess of 30 per cent of basic pay, accelerated staff progression up the Agenda for Change pay spines and the chance to offer alternative packages and bonus schemes denied to other trusts, but Homerton University Hospital trust has said it will not disadvantage other local trusts.

Trust chief executive Nancy Hallett said: 'I feel that achieving foundation hospital status would certainly raise the profile of the hospital and Hackney as a whole, and I hope this will enhance recruitment across the area.

However, we would not be offering differential rates of pay for nurses or other healthcare professionals to those in other neighbouring trusts.'

The news will come as a relief to City and Hackney primary care trust, which feared the ability of Homerton to offer higher pay would undermine its ability to attract and retain its nursing staff.

Chair Jane Winder said: 'We are very, very worried about what effect differential pay rates are going to have. PCTs need staff, and particularly nursing staff, and we are in direct competition with trusts like Homerton which could be in a position [through foundation trust status] to attract staff.'

Homerton is one of the 32 acute trusts which submitted preliminary applications for foundation status - and should hear whether it is one of a predicted 15 that will go through to the second stage within the next three weeks.

Ms Winder called for formal agreements to be struck between trusts in the same geographical area. She said: 'In reality, we cannot make any unofficial agreements around staffing.

Individuals come and go and what is needed is something more formal between the organisations.

The basis on which foundation trusts will be built is still fluid at the moment and I would like to think there is scope to address the issue.'

lRebel Labour MPs have promised to try to force a parliamentary vote to kill off the government's high-profile foundation trust legislation.

HSJ understands that a reasoned amendment will be introduced at the second reading of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill - expected to take place on 7 May .

If the amendment is passed, then the bill's progress is blocked.

One hundred and thirty-three MPs - including 124 Labour MPs - have already signed an early day motion against the proposals. The size of the rebellion could match that over the war on Iraq, with the government having to rely on Conservative votes to pass the legislation. The Conservative Party has yet to declare its position.

David Hinchliffe, chair of the health select committee, said he did not expect the proposals on foundation trusts to be altered through backbench pressure - as opposition was based on fundamental principals behind the policy.