A mental health trust has halted a controversial recruitment scheme, in which nursing staff were offered the chance to sacrifice pension contributions in return for better pay.

Oxleas Foundation Trust was considering a pay deal aimed at attracting agency nurses, which meant band five nurses would earn more if they opted out of the NHS pension scheme.

The trust previously told HSJ sister title Nursing Times that it devised the offer to try and recruit nurses to take up permanent posts who had previously left the NHS and gone into agency work.

However, NT has now learnt that the trust has dropped the scheme. It follows opposition from national union leaders who had reported the trust to the pension regulator.

The trust said that “following lengthy discussion”, its board had decided to close the scheme despite its success in helping to recruit nearly 100 band five nurses.

The decision to close the scheme was taken by the board at its April meeting.

“While the board remains satisfied that the scheme is both legal and appropriate, as we have achieved our aim of increasing our permanent staff numbers, we have closed the scheme to new applicants and will evaluate its impact,” the trust statement said.

Ben Travis, the trust’s acting chief executive, added: “We have taken into account the concerns raised by trade union colleagues and wish to maintain our long standing excellent relations and partnership working with them.

“We set up this scheme as a means to recruit permanent staff rather than needing to rely on agency staff as we believe this improves patient care. It has helped us achieve this goal.”

The trust said it would honour the offer made to existing staff, as well as the 93 nurses who have been offered jobs as part of the most recent campaign.

It said it was not yet clear how many of these members of staff wished to take the alternative pay scheme offer.

“We will continue to seek to recruit permanent staff and reduce the numbers of agency nurses that we use,” the trust said.

Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “I am pleased the trust has listened to the unions’ request to think again about offering higher pay to new staff who opt out of the NHS pension scheme.

“We recognise the difficulties the trust has in recruiting and retaining staff, and we are keen to work with managers to solve these problems.

“It is not in the interest of NHS staff to leave the pension scheme that will help provide for them when they retire.”