WORKFORCE: The union Unite has said Northumbria Foundation Trust “could face a legal challenge” after nearly halving the mileage paid to some of its staff.

Staff who were employed in Northumbria and North of Tyne community services – which have been transferred to the foundation trust – will have their travel reimbursement rate cut from 47p a mile to 24p a mile from April.

Foundation trust staff who did not transfer with the community services were already on the 24p a mile rate.

Unite said in a statement that the lower rate was based on the assumption “NHS professionals should be using trains and buses to visit patients and clients in a predominately rural area”, rather than their own vehicle.

The union’s regional officer Martin Wright said: “I am very disappointed that management are imposing this after a failure to [reach agreement] with the trades unions.

“This is being imposed unilaterally. They are offering the lease car option for staff, instead of paying the proper private mileage rate, but that may not be suitable or financially feasible for everyone.”

He added: “If the trust presses ahead with this, it could face a legal challenge for unlawful deduction of wages at an employment tribunal.

“Northumberland is a very rural county and many health staff need their cars to do their jobs. At a time when, petrol prices are at a record high and the cost of motoring entering the realms of the prohibitive, the trust’s plans are unacceptable.”

Mr Wright claimed it would “cost our members hundreds of pounds a year just to do their jobs”.

Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown added: “This proposal will be to detriment of health staff, and ultimately, the patients they serve, and be contrary to the letter and spirit of the national Agenda for Change [pay and terms] agreement.”

A spokeswoman for the trust told HSJ the lower rate was based on an accurate assessment of the cost of travel, so it could not justify paying any more. She also said the trust did not want its previous staff and community service newcomers to be on different rate.