• Unions attack proposals as “appalling insult to staff”
  • Trust says cuts were part of a range of options
  • New staff and those moving roles would have lower sick pay
  • Trust accuses unions of releasing misleading information

A foundation trust considered proposals – now abandoned – to deny staff sick pay if they had time off work with the flu after refusing vaccination.

Medway Foundation Trust has withdrawn proposals which also included reduced pay for some staff on long term sick leave, and giving only statutory sick pay for the first three days of any sickness.

It would have applied to new staff and existing staff who move to new roles, according to documents seen by HSJ.

The trust, having now dropped the proposals, has accused unions of releasing “categorically false” information suggesting they were still under consideration, after they had been withdrawn.

It has described the ideas it considered as “potential workforce initiatives” and says they were among a range of options.

HSJ has seen documents detailing the proposed changes, which were presented to unions, and would have required changed employment contracts. The ideas included:

  • Staff who refused the flu vaccination would not be entitled to sick pay for any absence due to flu for the next year.
  • No contractual sick pay would be payable for the first three days of absence, with only statutory rates paid.
  • Staff on probation would only be eligible for statutory sick pay.
  • Staff who were sick for longer than a month would be expected to take alternate months at full pay and half pay.

HSJ was told that unions had been informed the trust was struggling to meet its cost improvement targets and needed to make savings. For 2017-18 the trust recorded a year end deficit of £66.4m excluding sustainability and transformation funding.

In a joint statement, the Royal College of Nursing, Unison, Unite, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, GMB and the Royal College of Midwives attacked the plans as an “appalling insult to staff”.

The unions pointed out Medway was already short of nursing staff and making terms and conditions worse than other trusts could add to the problem. They were also concerned staff might work while they were unwell rather than lose pay, they said.

Medway deputy chief executive James Devine said: “The trust discussed a number of potential workforce initiatives, including changes to sick pay for new or future staff with the joint staff committee. This is normal procedure and an important way of obtaining feedback.

“Following further consideration and discussions with trust staff, a decision was made by the executive team that the trust would not pursue any changes to sick pay; it was felt they would not be in the best interests of staff.”

NHS England and NHS Improvement said last month they wanted “near universal” uptake of the flu vaccine, and indicating that staff who refused it should explain their reasons.