The government has agreed to provide funding to ‘eligible’ charities, local authorities and social enterprises to help deliver one-off payments to nurses and other health workers, following mounting pressure from the profession and health leaders.
However, unions are concerned there will be some nursing staff delivering NHS care who will still miss out on the uplifts, which came as part of the latest NHS pay deal, and have called for clarity on which organisations will receive the funding.
Announcing the news today, the Department of Health and Social Care said it had ‘stepped in’ to help eligible independent organisations providing NHS care to deliver one-off payments to their staff, worth at least £1,655.
As part of the offer, organisations must apply for the funding and will need to show they have been ‘negatively financially impacted’ by the NHS pay deal, and that their staff are employed on ‘dynamically linked’ Agenda for Change contracts.
According to the DHSC, dynamically linked contracts are kept in line with the national Agenda for Change contract, so they automatically reflect any changes or uplifts.
Organisations that have already delivered the one-off payments to staff can apply to be reimbursed, the government said.
The scheme, which will be funded by ‘existing departmental budgets’, will open in the coming weeks and is expected to be completed by the end of the 2023/24 financial year, it added.
The situation follows pressure from the profession and a judicial review sought by national sector body Social Enterprise UK over the situation, which it had previously described as an ‘inequitable, two-tier system’ of government funding.
The agreed NHS pay deal was made up of a 5% consolidated pay award for 2023/24, and two one-off non-consolidated awards on top of the 2022/23 pay award.
These one-off payments consisted of a non-consolidated award worth 2% percent, and a one-off NHS ‘backlog bonus’ to recognise the sustained pressure facing the NHS following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Previously, the government had said the non-consolidated payments covered staff ‘directly employed’ by NHS organisations and that it would not therefore fund the one-off payments for nurses working for independent employers delivering NHS services. It had said employers were responsible for making these payments.
Meanwhile, Social Enterprise UK, NHS Confederation and unions have written letters to the government over their concerns about the funding of the one-off payments.
And around two months ago, Social Enterprise UK filed a judicial review regarding the payments.
Today, the DHSC said it had ‘listened to concerns around providing the payments in the current economic circumstances and so will make funding available to help deliver them, on this occasion’.
Health minister Will Quince said: ‘Given the difficult economic context we have made the decision to provide additional funding on this occasion to help deliver the one-off payments to eligible staff employed by non-NHS organisations.
‘This will ensure hardworking healthcare staff and the organisations they work for are not financially disadvantaged as a result of the NHS pay deal, and means they will receive their backlog bonus for their efforts during the pandemic.’
However, unions, including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), are concerned there will be some staff who still miss out.
RCN director of England, Patricia Marquis, said: ‘This significant progress is not before time.
‘In the four months after the one-off payment was given to the majority, we have campaigned alongside the nursing staff who were left without.’
She added: ‘Unfortunately, there are still some nursing staff delivering NHS care who will not get this if their contract is not dynamically linked to Agenda for Change.
‘Pay uplifts and any one-offs should, as a rule, go to all who deliver NHS care and not leave some people behind through contractual technicalities.
‘The department must provide clarity on who will receive the funding.’
Separately, Ms Marquis said the RCN today renewed its call for ‘nursing staff working in general practice to also be given their full pay uplift with the money similarly made directly available by central government’.
Meanwhile, Unison head of health Sara Gorton said the announcement would ‘ensure a small number of providers aren’t out of pocket for awarding staff what they’re legally owed’, but she stressed ‘this should have happened months ago’.
She also suggested the situation would not stop ‘thousands of contractors and bank providers from ignoring calls to do the right thing by paying the lump sum to outsourced and temporary staff in the NHS’.
And Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the announcement was ‘barely a sticking plaster’.
‘We need real investment in our NHS and for its staff, whoever employs them,’ she said.
‘And we need a change in government to one that truly values our health service workers.’
Meanwhile, Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: ‘Leaders across the NHS will welcome wholeheartedly the news that eligible healthcare staff providing vital health and care services through social enterprises, charities and community interest companies will receive the one-off payment as part of this year’s pay award.’
However, she recognised that for ‘some organisations and patients today’s announcement will have come too late’.
‘Community providers say the failure until now to confirm central funding for nationally agreed NHS pay rises has forced some organisations to absorb the additional costs within their own already over-stretched budgets, forcing the scaling back of some services,’ warned Ms Deakin.