WORKFORCE: Commissioners have agreed to fund pay protection for NHS Direct staff in the north east following a long running row over pay, terms and conditions.

The non-emergency NHS 111 phone number is due to replace NHS Direct’s 0845 number from next March.

North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust and Northern Doctors Urgent Care, which won the contract to provide the service across the whole of the north east, have refused to take on NHS Direct staff based in the region under their existing terms and conditions.

They claim as the contract was awarded before the Department of Health announced Cabinet Office guidelines would apply to NHS Direct staff they are not bound to comply with them.

NHS Direct staff were given the opportunity to move to the ambulance trust voluntarily but nurses employed on Agenda for Change band 6 were told they would be moved to band 5. Health advisors, who do not have a clinical background, were also told they would be moved down a band.

However, in a statement a spokeswoman for the North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust said NHS Direct staff would have their existing salary preserved on a sliding scale.

Employees with less than two years of service will have their salary protected for one year, those with between two and five years’ service will get two years protection and those with more than five years’ service will get four years protection.

Funding for the protection has been provided by the lead commissioners, NHS County Durham and Darlington.

The spokeswoman added: “No provision was made for the transfer of NHS Direct staff to NHS 111 when we were awarded the contract, but we have worked closely with commissioners and NHS Direct to ensure that opportunities are provided for NHS Direct staff to work with us on NHS 111.”