Protest against trust's plan to offer nurses higher salary to opt out of pension

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust is offering new nurses a higher salary in exchange for opting out of the NHS pension scheme
Lister Hospital

Unions staged a protest at a NHS hospital over plans to allow nurses to opt out of their pension in exchange for a higher salary. 

Lister Hospital
Protestors against East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust's pension opt out scheme
outside Lister Hospital in Stevenage Picture: Tracey Lambert

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust is offering band 5 and 6 nurses the option to opt out of the NHS pension scheme when they join the trust.

The recruits will receive the pension contributions the trust would have made on their behalf as part of their salary, as well as retaining the contributions they would usually make themselves.

This could amount to a 12.5% salary rise, according to the trust, and the pilot scheme is designed to encourage nurses to take up substantive roles instead of working for agencies.

Criticism of the scheme

RCN general secretary Janet Davies warned the move was 'asking people to neglect their futures'.

The trust has 240 whole time equivalent (WTE) band 5 nurse vacancies, a vacancy rate of 23%, and 60 WTE band 6 nurse vacancies, a rate of 12%.

It is aiming to cut down on its dependency on agency nurses through the opt out incentive, part of a wider recruitment campaign.

Both the RCN and Unison have criticised the move, staging a protest at the trust’s Lister Hospital in Stevenage today.

Union reps handed out leaflets highlighting the risks in opting out of the NHS pension scheme, waving flags and placards by the hospital's main entrance. 

NHS pensions at risk

Unison said it had reported the trust to the NHS Pensions Board and the Pensions Regulator because it believes the trust is ‘inducing’ staff to opt out of the pension scheme.

‘The NHS pension scheme will be at risk if other trusts do this and these nurses will need to have a pension when they retire,' Unison head of health (east of England) Tracey Lambert told Nursing Standard.

‘It won’t be me, but my children and grandchildren as taxpayers who will have to provide them with a pension.’

The RCN's Ms Davies added: ‘This ill thought out move asks people to neglect their future and will stop them from making retirement plans.’

Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, covering south London and Kent, introduced a similar scheme earlier this year, but withdrew it after opposition from trade unions.

Independent financial advice

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust director of workforce Thomas Simons said the pay incentive is likely to start from January 1, when the first new recruits to choose it start working for the trust.

The scheme is being piloted for a year and is part of a wider recruitment campaign which includes offering flexible working patterns, different contract types and excellent career progression, he added.

Mr Simons said: ‘Anyone wishing to take up the pension option would need to have taken independent financial advice on the matter.’