The man leading the South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium has revealed representatives of other NHS regions have approached him for advice on setting up similar groups to drive down workforce costs.

In a HSJ interview, Chris Bown, chairman of the 20-strong group of South West NHS trusts, said he had been contacted by managers who were investigating taking their own action to reduce workers’ pay, terms and conditions.

In his first in-depth interview since the consortium was created Mr Bown said trusts were becoming “increasingly frustrated” at the lack of progress on national negotiations to alter the Agenda for Change pay framework.

“Across England people from other trusts have contacted me to say ‘we will see how it goes with you but we are equally frustrated and we’re thinking about forming our own consortium’,” he said.

“Some have already had discussions about forming their own groups but are waiting to press the button until we know the outcome of the national negotiations.”

Mr Bown, Poole Hospitals Foundation Trust’s chief executive, warned that if the NHS’s pay bill was not reduced widespread job losses would ensue.

He said: “We can’t continue to maintain the same level of employees with the economic challenges we are all facing. We will need to reduce workforce even further in the NHS if we don’t do something else.”

But he accepted staff reductions could not go “beyond a safe level”. Without a deal on pay, terms and conditions “more trusts [would get] into financial difficulty and some might fail and that in itself is not great for high quality patient care”, he added.

Unions have reacted with anger at the consortium’s attempt to move away from Agenda for Change, which was agreed in 2004. Mr Bown denied there was a “conspiracy” between the consortium, the Department of Health and NHS Employers to undermine national pay negotiations for force unions to compromise for fear of less generous regional deals being imposed.

He said he had written to all 15 NHS unions in an attempt to engage with them over the group’s plans but all had refused to speak to the group.

A petition against the consortium has been signed by more than 20,000 people and a protest has already been held outside North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple.

Mr Bown said he understood unions’ concerns but added he could not see why they could not continue national negotiations while the South West drew up its own proposals.

“Employers are increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress on the national negotiations which have been going on for almost two years,” he said.

“If NHS Employers and unions can achieve a set of terms and conditions with flexibility that enables us to make the changes we need to then of course we would take that very seriously.

“But our view has always been that we need to continue to work in the background.”

Mr Bown said automatic incremental pay rises added £3m to the cost base of an average trust, even during the current pay freeze.

“We have to face up to these things. Trying to bury your head in the sand and not facing up to the realities just doesn’t get people anywhere,” he added.

The consortium has drawn up a list of 28 potential ways of reducing staff pay, terms and conditions including:

  • Cut annual leave
  • Additional activity sessions for doctors
  • Cut on-call payments
  • Increase working hours
  • End preceptorship rise for new band 5 staff
  • Cut incremental pay rises
  • Cut size of pay increases
  • Cut sick pay
  • Remove recruitment and retention premia
  • Cut redundancy pay
  • Stop short-term sickness payments
  • Cut sick pay for new staff and long term benefits
  • Cut use of temporary staff
  • End unsocial hours payments