Shadow heath secretary Andy Burnham has pledged not to cut unsocial hours payments for NHS staff if Labour wins the general election, but said he still planned to introduce a ‘seven-day service’ that provides care for people at whatever time they require.

He told the Unison annual health conference in Liverpool yesterday that extending the hours of operation of the NHS would make it a “21st century service”, but that this would not be done “on the backs of NHS staff”.

Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham said unsocial hours payments need to be protected to help staff ‘embrace different ways of working’

“Labour will protect unsocial hours payments,” said Mr Burnham in his keynote speech at the conference. “Because if you are to build a seven day service – that is the way you build a seven day service. 

“By respecting people, by recognising that if you are working the most difficult shifts you might have to use your car because public transport may not be available or you might have to get a bit of extra childcare for your kids,” he said.

When asked by a Unison member to assure workers that unsocial hours pay would be maintained even if the NHS Pay Review Body proposed it be cut, the shadow health secretary suggested Labour would introduce a review of Agenda for Change.

But he reiterated his promise that unsocial hours payments would be protected as part of any changes to the system.

He later told HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times that Labour planned to protect unsocial hours payments and fund the seven day service through savings made by reducing the NHS’s reliance on high cost private agency staffing.

Mr Burnham said spending on agency staffing would be reduced because the party had committed to training 20,000 more nurses and 3,000 extra midwives for the NHS.

“[Unsocial hours payment] is crucial to build a seven day service. To try and do it on the backs of staff and with goodwill non-existent, then it would be a disaster,” he said.

“You need to protect unsocial hours payments if you are to get the goodwill of people to embrace different ways of working.”