Unions to demonstrate against Northern Devon Healthcare Trust’s membership of a controversial ‘cartel’ looking at health workers’ pay and hours with a view to save money.

FURIOUS NHS workers will be demonstrating outside Barnstaple hospital today (Wednesday) over fears health trust bosses seek to slash salaries and change working conditions to save money.

Northern Devon Healthcare Trust is one of 20 in the region to spend £10,000 and join a controversial ‘pay cartel’ to discuss different options.

The South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium says no proposals or recommendations are on the table, but unions claim the discussions could lead to pay cuts of as much as 15 per cent and longer working hours for staff. Torbay is the only Devon trust not to join.

This morning, Unison has organised a lobbying demonstration of members and other unions outside North Devon District Hospital to coincide with the trust’s monthly board meeting.

“Our members are really angry,” said Mark Harper, North Devon Unison branch secretary.

“This could mean a cut in pay, annual leave, sick pay and increasing hours for all staff as part of 28 different proposals to cut staff terms and conditions.

“Like other hardworking members of the public, our members are already suffering the effects of the economic downturn. Most have had to endure a pay freeze for the last few years. We need to remind board members this trust is part of the ‘National’ Health Service.

“How dare they even consider this? We will fight them all the way if necessary.”

The consortium has just released two ‘discussion documents’ outlining the financial challenges facing the NHS.

One lists 28 potential measures which could be taken to save money on staff, including less annual leave, an extra working hour a week, changes to sick pay, bonus schemes and ‘unsocial hours’ payments.

The consortium says the documents are not recommendations, but a way to generate a debate with staff and their representatives.

Northern Devon Healthcare Trust has already said it needs to find savings of £60 million over the next five years as part of the national bid to save £20 billion on NHS expenditure.

In a statement to the North Devon Gazette, it said approximately 70 per cent of its budget was spent on pay.

“The consortium’s steering group is responsible for identifying how taxpayer funding may be more efficiently used in order to protect both employment and the continued delivery of high-quality healthcare, which includes looking at the pay, terms and conditions of all staff,” it said.

“For example, an average-sized trust with a turnover of £200 million will see its expenditure on pay increase by more than £3 million per year from 2013/14.

“The aim of the consortium is to provide greater security for health services and staff, with an affordable pay, terms and conditions system that recognises and rewards performance, promotes greater productivity and creates a flexible workforce.”

The unions say the ‘pay cartel’ is a way of side-stepping the ongoing national Agenda For Change pay and conditions initiative.

Unison members will be at Barnstaple hospital today and tomorrow to promote their campaign and seek public support.

Trudie Brailey, chairman of the Staff Side group which acts as a bridge between trust and staff said it was concerned staff morale had been seriously damaged:

“Staff Side has repeatedly asked the trust to withdraw from the cartel as it undermines national negotiations and will have disastrous ramifications for staff, patients and the healthcare throughout North Devon,” she said.