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NHS staff who fought Ebola outbreak are denied £4,000 allowance given to other volunteers

The Unite union has called for NHS volunteers who tackled the deadly Ebola virus to receive the same allowance as other volunteers

NHS workers who risked their lives combating the deadly Ebola virus in Africa have been denied an allowance of more than £4,000 given to other volunteers.

Staff from Public Health England (PHE) who volunteered in laboratories in west Africa to fight the disease have received the allowance, paid for by the Department for International Development (DFID).

But the Unite union has criticised the failure to remunerate NHS volunteers and academics, despite them working ‘in the same life-threatening situations’, and has called for them to be recompensed in the same manner.

NHS nurses, including Pauline Cafferkey, who contracted the virus and recovered, worked alongside PHE staff in treatment centres with laboratories, helping Ebola victims.

Unite healthcare sciences national committee chair Ian Evans, who volunteered in one of the affected countries, has written to international development secretary MP Justine Greening three times criticising the disparity, without a response.

In his letter, he said: ‘As you can appreciate, this is a huge inequality and needs to be addressed.

‘We all acknowledge that colleagues who volunteered to be deployed did not do this because there was a financial incentive, but it does not excuse a two-tier payment scheme.’

Mr Evans, a biomedical scientist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, told the minister that health service volunteers ‘are of equal merit’ and ‘are qualified and trained to the same level’.

Around 200 NHS staff and academics are eligible for the bonus, according to Mr Evans. 

He said the payment includes an operational working allowance of £3,615, a deployment allowance of £516 and a tax-free clothing allowance of £100. 

NHS staff received their normal salaries while volunteering and had their food, accommodation and travel paid for. But they were unaware that colleagues were receiving the allowance, Mr Evans said. 

He volunteered in Sierra Leone last August and will use his annual leave this month to return to help set up a ‘legacy’ centre. 

Mr Evans told Nursing Standard: ‘I think they [NHS volunteers] should be given the option of whether they want [the allowance] or not.

‘Some have said they would give it to charity or back to Sierra Leone.’   

Public Health England said that the allowance was offered to around 150 of its laboratory staff between October 2014 and December 2015 for each deployment they made to west Africa, and that the payments have now ceased.

A PHE spokesperson said: ‘This allowance was offered to laboratory based PHE personnel to bring them up to contractual terms comparable to other UK specialised staff deployed to labs in west Africa.’

A DFID spokesperson said: ‘NHS volunteers showed immense bravery and commitment and played a key role in bringing the outbreak under control.

‘The terms and conditions for their deployment were clearly set out in advance by their employer.’

 

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