• NHS organisations want talks over multiyear pay deal from 2021
  • Warning over “burdening” employers with “unfunded commitments”
  • Trade unions highlight “patchy” progress on band movement under current deal

Trusts have warned they should not be “burdened with unfunded commitments” on pay and conditions, and said they “would welcome” talks on another multiyear NHS pay deal. 

Meanwhile, trade unions have warned about the “patchy” progress on the current Agenda for Change pay deal, in particular about the movement of staff between bands one and two.

In evidence submitted to the NHS Pay Review Body — which advises ministers on pay, terms and conditions — NHS Employers said trusts are “already looking ahead” to the expiry of the current three-year pay deal in April next year.

It said in its submission: “The current three-year pay deal ends on 31 March 2021, and employers are already looking ahead to the period immediately after.

“Given the workforce challenges we are facing, it is essential that we can provide certainty on pay levels for our existing staff and those we need to attract and recruit.”

The government has yet to indicate its intentions for Agenda for Change pay beyond 2020-21, but has said the NHS is a priority for it and it wants to attract and retain staff.

The NHS Employers submission, published earlier this week, added: “Looking ahead to the end of the current three-year pay deal, the pressures of meeting increasing demand, and at the same time delivering efficiency savings, means that employers will not wish to be burdened with unfunded commitments that create additional financial pressure.

“Employers would welcome discussions to explore the possibility of a further multiyear pay deal.”

Union concerns

A submission to the PRB by the major NHS non-medical staff unions raised concerns about implementation of parts of the current three-year deal, in particular staff movement from band one to two.

The current deal — covering three years from 2018-19 — included, among other substantial changes to the pay framework, the removal of the AfC band one in December 2018 for new starters, with relevant staff recruited directly into band two. All band one jobs are due to be moved to band two roles by March 2021, while current band one staff receive salary increases of up to 17 per cent over three years.

However, the unions’ submission said staff eligible for band two pay were put off by concerns surrounding “in-work benefits and poor local management behaviour”.

It added: “We believe there is a link between the quality of the engagement with band one staff about this aspect of the pay deal and general underlying workplace culture.

“For example, in some trusts, high-profile disputes about since-abandoned plans to transfer band one staff into wholly-owned subsidiary companies have left a legacy, whereby these staff no longer have trust and confidence in their managers’ intentions.”

Last November, Frimley Health Foundation Trust put its subsidiary company plans on hold amid union opposition before Bradford Teaching Hospitals FT scrapped its own proposals entirely. BTHFT’s decision was announced shortly after the arrival of its new chief executive Mel Pickup.

Unions also said that Workforce Race Equality Standard data showed there continued to be racial disparities in the likelihood of staff being subject to disciplinary proceedings.

Recruitment and retention premia

Ministers have asked the PRB specifically to consider how recruitment and retention premia “might help support the recruitment and retention of staff [for] but not limited to, the recruitment and retention of IT staff”.

Both unions and NHS Employers indicated they were sceptical about the benefits of nationally funded recruitment and retention premia, and they may have “unintended consequences”, especially in other parts of the workforce. They urged for talks to be underpinned by a discussion about where additional funding for temporary pay arrangements would be found.

Neither the Department of Health and Social Care nor NHS England/Improvement have yet made available their evidence to the PRB for the 2020-21 round.