Social enterprise employers must pay nurses the one-off payments included in the new NHS pay deal themselves, the health and social care secretary has suggested.
In a meeting with nursing press on Monday, Steve Barclay was challenged on the exclusion of some nurses who are not directly employed by the NHS, but who provide NHS services, from the non-consolidated aspects of the NHS pay award.
He responded by claiming this was the deal agreed by health unions and that nothing had changed since the agreement had been reached.
Concerns have been raised in recent weeks that despite being aligned to Agenda for Change contracts, nurses working in some charities and social enterprise companies delivering NHS community services will miss out on the one-off payments included in the deal because the government will not be funding them.
The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and nurses themselves have been among those sounding the alarm.
The deal is made up of a 5% consolidated pay award for 2023/24 and a one-off award for 2022/23 and a Covid bonus for 2023/24. The Department of Health and Social Care has said the non-consolidated one-off aspects would only cover staff directly employed by NHS organisations set out in the Agenda for Change handbook, which includes NHS trusts and integrated care boards.
Speaking to Nursing in Practice, Mr Barclay said: ‘The deal is as was agreed with the trade unions during our negotiations.’
He added that this was ‘a deal focused on the Agenda for Change staff’ and that ‘those were the terms throughout’.
‘It is not that anything has changed since the agreement has been reached with trade union colleagues,’ he said.
‘It was focused on the Agenda for Change – that was something that trade union colleagues themselves agreed to and indeed then recommended to members… [and] the majority then voted to support.’
Mr Barclay added that it was ‘then for employers to then make any additional payments’ and ‘to look at that in terms of any staffing issues’.
Earlier this month, Queen’s Nurse Reuben Collings launched a petition urging the government to fully fund the pay award, after he learned the DHSC would not be funding the non-consolidated part of the deal at his employer, which he said provided ‘100% NHS-funded care’.
Responding to the health secretary’s comments today, Mr Collings told Nursing in Practice: ‘It’s extremely disappointing that Mr Barclay and the Department for Health and Social Care have been so short-sighted in the offer.’
He said the ‘fall out of this decision is wide reaching, with many colleagues considering their employment in these organisations and the implications this could have on their future employment in the NHS’. There was also the ‘ongoing issues with recruitment and retention of staff’ to consider, he noted.
‘Termed as a Covid recovery bonus, staff and organisations did not close or stop services during the pandemic, in fact many stepped up, supported the system, and released capacity to prevent critical incidents and ensure continuity of care,’ added Mr Collings.
‘Many organisations have a dynamic link with Agenda for Change and provide 100% of NHS services.
‘The government have not been explicit in this offer about the “eligibility”.’
He said the creation of what had been described as a ‘two-tier’ pay system, ‘divides the system further, despite the move towards integrated care systems’.
For ‘many’ nursing staff and colleagues employed by organisations impacted, ‘we just feel not NHS enough’, added Mr Collings.
Meanwhile, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute Dr Crystal Oldman said: ‘The response from Steve Barclay does not address the issue of the total inequity that has arisen for patients living in areas where social enterprises deliver an NHS contract for community services and pay their staff in accordance with Agenda for Change – but are left unfunded for the pay increase.’
She told Nursing in Practice that social enterprises were now ‘in a situation where they will lose staff to neighbouring NHS providers that are funded for the increase in salaries, or they will need to cut services to pay for an increase in staff salary’.
‘Either way, it is a stark choice which leaves patients and communities served at a significant disadvantage in the areas of England that this applies to,’ added Dr Oldman.
‘There is still an opportunity to reverse this decision and I hope that this is done in a timely way now that the immediate and long-term impact on citizens living in these areas is understood.’
In addition, RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said the comments made by the health secretary ‘should be seen as signal of the importance of voting in the latest strike ballot’.
NHS nurses who are members of the RCN have until Friday 23 June to vote for further strike action over pay.
‘Nursing staff will be angered to hear that instead of delivering on fair pay for all of those working in the NHS Steve Barclay seems intent on creating a two-tier system where thousand will miss out,’ she added.
‘We must not allow this to stand as we again ask our members to vote on strike action to ensure the voice of nursing will not be silenced.’