Published: 06/02/2003, Volume II3, No. 5841 Page 6 7

The new NHS pay system is set to have a major impact on pay and conditions in the private healthcare and contracting sectors, independent healthcare providers have said.

Private healthcare firms have warned that pay packets in the independent sector could 'spiral' if the proposed Agenda for Change pay system is given the go-ahead.

They say they are tracking developments as Agenda for Change goes out to consultation among NHS staff (see box).A spokesman for the Independent Healthcare Association warned that 'spiralling pay packets for NHS nurses'would have a serious effect on the independent care home sector if Agenda for Change is implemented.

He added: 'The independent sector is examining this with great interest, and understands that both the NHS and the independent sector are seeking human resources from the same finite market.

'It forces care home providers to match those costs. But sadly they will not be able to do so. Already escalating staffing costs are contributing to the demise of many care home providers.'

Norman Rose, director-general of contractors' body the Business Services Association, said it was 'inevitable' that both NHSemployed staff and new starters with contractor firms would be paid at Agenda for Change rates in future. But he stressed the extra costs would 'have to be built into contracts'with trusts.

The development was 'positive' he said, with more flexibility and fewer boundaries between different jobs. 'There will be some comment from companies about the adverse effect of increased payscales, but I think the new approach of the NHS and the unions does mirror the general approach of the private sector.'

Other independent healthcare providers promised to keep a close eye on developments.

A BUPA Hospitals spokesperson said: 'How Agenda for Change will affect us, We are not yet sure. But recruitment and retention is a problem and something's got to be done.'

And a spokesperson for BMI Hospitals said: 'We will keep our pay under review.'

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has admitted that one in 10 NHS staff will have to decide whether to accept or reject the proposed Agenda for Change pay system without knowing which pay band they will be in.

It has admitted that nationally agreed job profiles would cover only 'about 90 per cent' of NHS jobs, with many staff in administrative posts in areas such as human resources and finance having to wait until agreement is reached before finding out where they fit on the new pay bands.

HSJ revealed last week that most NHS manager posts would have to be locally assessed by joint management and staffside panels - and only if Agenda for Change was agreed at the end of consultation.

Which way now? Unison undecided Unison's health service executive group failed to come up with a definitive position on Agenda for Change at its meeting last week.

It is understood that sector committees representing ancillary and administrative and clerical staff have come out against the deal, while ambulance and nursing workers are thought to be broadly in favour.

The health service executive had been expected to decide on a recommendation to put to delegates at a special pay conference in April.But instead it resolved to submit two motions to the conference, one to accept and one to reject, leaving a decision on its final position until March.