Lincolnshire health visitors have voted to strike again amid an ongoing row over pay and professional standards.
Unite represents 76 of the 126 health visitors employed by Lincolnshire County Council, of which a majority (67%) voted for the latest round of walkouts following 32 days of strikes since July and around 450 shifts lost so far.
Unite calculates that the health visitors have lost more than £2,000 a year since they were transferred from the NHS in October 2017. They have not received an inflationary pay rise as they remained on Agenda for Change terms and conditions.
Though the health visitors can transfer to the Lincolnshire County Council contract, Unite and its members are critical of the council’s new ‘career progression scheme’, introduced on 1 October.
To progress to grade 10 on the scheme, staff must have worked as a health visitor for four years among other competencies.
But Unite argues that grade 10 equates to band 6 on Agenda for Change, which NHS health visitors start on at the beginning of their career.
Steve Syson, Unite regional officer, said that Lincolnshire County Council bosses have adopted ‘an unscrupulous ‘divide and rule’ stance over future job roles’.
He continued: ’We also need to staunch the number of fed-up health visitors leaving the county council for alternative employment where their highly transferrable skills are more valued.
‘Our case is compelling and that is all health visitors have had the same community nurse qualifications and workplace training – and, therefore, they should be on the same grade 10 contracts with the same pay scales after preceptorship for newly qualified health visitors for a period of two years.’
Mr Syson went on to urge the council to enter into ‘constructive talks’ with Unite ‘to resolve this dispute for the benefit of the families of Lincolnshire and our members.’
When approached by Nursing in Practice, Lincolnshire County Council said they had not been formally notified of the result of the ballot by Unite.
However, Health Sandy, interim director for education, had previously said that Unite and the council met for ‘constructive’ talks overseen by conciliation service ACAS earlier this month (October).
Ms Sandy said: ‘We have committed to confirm our position in writing. The council is really encouraged by the interest staff have shown in the career progression scheme which was introduced on 1 October which opens up new salaries to those staff on static paygrades.
‘Whilst the council remains committed to resolving the current dispute with Unite, we wish to highlight and recognise the hard work of our health visiting staff who are ensuring services continue to perform well against regional and national benchmarks. As always, we value our health visiting workforce and the excellent support they provide to the children and families of Lincolnshire.’
Earlier this week, Lincoln MP Karen Lee, who is also a nurse, voiced concerns that the career progression scheme would ‘divide the health visitor role’ at a debate at Westminster Hall, which came in response to the Institute of Health Visiting revealing a 31.8% reduction of health visitors from 10,309 to 7,026 in England since 2015.
The dates for the latest round of strikes are yet to be confirmed.
Nursing in Practice has contacted Lincolnshire County Council for further comment.