Call to extend COVID bonus to all nurses amid doubts it was promised

Nurse leaders warn that government’s ‘unworkable’ two-tier pay award will push excluded nurses to quit
Nurses on a picket line holding placards at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield

Nurse leaders warn that government’s ‘unworkable’ two-tier pay award will push excluded nurses to quit

Nurses on a picket line holding placards at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield
Nurses on strike at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield Picture: John Houlihan

The RCN has joined the call for all nurses working in the NHS to receive the ‘COVID backlog bonus’ as the college and government are at loggerheads over whether the payment was promised.

Decision to withhold part of pay award from some nurses came as a ‘surprise’ to RCN negotiators

Thousands of nurses and other healthcare staff on Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts working in England’s health service will not get the one-off payments negotiated for 2022-23 pay award as they are not directly employed by NHS trusts. Unions and health leaders have warned it risks an unfair two-tier system.

The pay offer in principle, published in March, stated that ‘all staff’ would receive the bonus, but guidance published last month confirmed that only staff employed directly by NHS trusts covered in Annex 1 of the NHS handbook would receive the bonus.

While the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Nursing Standard this was decided ‘pre-negotiations and was communicated to unions during negotiations’, the RCN said they ‘do not accept’ this position and were ‘surprised’ some staff were excluded.

RCN chief calls for all nurses on AfC contracts to be awarded the negotiated bonus payments

On 14 June RCN general secretary Pat Cullen wrote to health and social care secretary Steve Barclay calling for all nurses working on AfC contracts in all NHS services to receive the 2022-23 payments and for further clarity on why some nurses will miss out.

‘Although the RCN has not been informed why, I understand this is due to funding. If this situation is not resolved, it will create a two-tier system for staff engaged on AfC terms and conditions and will do nothing to quell industrial unrest regarding pay.’

The letter echoes another sent by NHS Confederation and other health leaders on 28 May raising concerns that excluding social enterprises, charities, and GP and community services from parts of the pay deal could have serious implications for local services.

But nurses working in sectors affected say that that these calls are long overdue, as hard-working staff are being overlooked for their work during the pandemic.

Social Enterprise UK director Dan Gregory said: ‘The RCN has said for some time that "staff in independent health and care organisations deliver safety critical nursing care and they deserve pay, terms and conditions that at least match their colleagues" – but unfortunately, we were not party to the negotiations between the unions and DHSC, so cannot be sure whether thousands of staff were either forgotten or deliberately left behind in the negotiations.

‘Two-tier system is unfair and workable’ and will push nurses to quit, say nurse leaders

Speaking to Nursing Standard Central Surrey Health chief nurse Denise Thiruchelvam, whose staff will miss out on the payments, warned it could push more nurses to quit the profession.

‘I don’t understand why my teams do not get the pay rise and equal treatment to the rest of the NHS. They feel like they are second-class citizens within healthcare,’ she said.

‘It is essential that all staff delivering NHS services on AfC receive equal pay awards. A two-tier structure will lead to significant numbers walking away and put more stress already stretched services.’

Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive Crystal Oldman said: ‘Unless all nurses in the community nursing services are treated equally, we will have a two-tier system that is unfair and unworkable. This is a stressful situation for many individuals and deserves immediate resolution.’

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