WORKFORCE: A Surrey foundation trust is to poll its staff on whether they would accept watering down their nationally agreed terms and conditions in exchange for fewer job cuts.

The Royal Surrey County Hospital Foundation Trust survey will ask staff to rank a list of possible cuts to their Agenda for Change terms and conditions in order of preference.

The list includes reductions to sick pay, annual leave, and enhanced pay for antisocial hours.

The survey also asks staff to rank by preference a number of proposed changes to locally agreed terms, including “on call” payments, notice periods, bank and locum rates, and overtime pay.

The trust said it would use the survey results to inform negotiations with staff unions.

Unions have opposed the poll, saying the trust should not even be proposing changes to nationally agreed terms at local level.

The Royal College of Nursing told HSJ it was the first time it had seen a staff survey being used in this way.

However, Royal Surrey HR director Michael Pantlin said the NHS could not ignore terms and conditions in its drive to make £20bn savings by 2015.

He said: “They came at quite a cost, they were [agreed] in days of plenty, and in order to protect jobs and therefore patient care this has to be a subject that’s put on the table. That’s what this survey is seeking to do.”

The foundation trust has an £18m, or 8 per cent, saving target in 2011-12, and £10m for each of the following two years. It plans to cut 120 posts this year, mainly by not filling vacancies.

RCN South East operational manager Sarah Dodsworth said the union would ask its members at the trust to reject any change to national terms in the survey, and to refuse to complete the question relating to the ranking of proposals.

She said: “If the trust is able to do this, others will follow and we’ll see the erosion of everything we fought for over years.

“Other trusts have considered terms and conditions as a way to make efficiency savings, but the Royal Surrey seems to be steaming ahead where others fear to tread. I think others will be watching this space.”