10 days ago, I wrote about the letter that North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Trust had issued to all of its employees, threatening to sack and re-employ them if they refused to sign a variation to their Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts removing the right to unsocial hours enhancements to sick pay. As I wrote, while I appreciate – and staff mostly concur – that there is some abuse of sick leave by a small number of staff, this should be addressed via disciplinary measures on those staff and not by penalising the vast majority of hard-working staff who are likely to be absent because of stress, infections or injuries (back injuries, for example, are commonly incurred while lifting patients or trying to prevent falls) picked up in the course of their work.
If you want to see the letter in full and see the coercive tactics being employed by the Trust, please read the whole article linked above.
However, it gets worse. Months ago, I put in a Freedom of Information Act request to the Trust asking (among other things) for details of any planned job cuts. I made the request on 4 July, and by law should have received the answer no later than a month after that. In view of the plans to dismiss and re-employ all its staff, I can see why the Trust delayed its answer.
However, I finally received it today – and it reveals the duplicity of the way in which the Trust is approaching the current issue of unsocial hours payments. In the letter to staff about the planned contract change, the Chief Executive of the Trust lists the ‘benefits’ to staff of the proposed new arrangements. Included in these was the following:
“Financial savings will help reduce the likelihood of redundancies”
Job-security, dangled as a carrot to help induce staff to meekly sign away their rights. Understandably, health-workers might feel that losing a nationally-agreed right is worth it if it will protect their jobs.
However, the response which I received today runs as follows:
Thank you for your request of 4 July and your request for further information. You asked about contracts and staff reductions.
We are undertaking organisational reviews, at this current time, in the
· clinical support services with an expected reduction of 2.6 whole time equivalent posts (wte)
· community services with an expected reduction of 7 wte
· estates and facilities with an expected reduction of 4.11 wte
Where possible staff displaced in these organisational reviews will be redeployed into vacant posts in the trust to limit any redundancies.
We cannot share future proposals as these might not come to fruition, however, we have carried out a workforce review for our outline business case in preparation of developing a new hospital which suggests that by 2016/17 we will have in the region of 426 fewer posts.”
Reductions are already in the pipeline for 14 fewer posts, and the plans for a new hospital to replace those at Norton and Hartlepool are intended to result in a further reduction of 426 positions.
A total of 440 jobs to be cut – even if staff allow their arms to be twisted into accepting a unilateral and illegally-imposed reduction in their conditions. 9% of the workforce – and no mention of that until forced to by an FOI request.
And not only that – other cuts are being considered, but the Trust declines to disclose these on the grounds that it “cannot share future proposals as these might not come to fruition“.
I’ve challenged the withholding of this information, as my request for plans by definition refers to things that haven’t happened yet and ‘might not come to fruition’.
Whatever the outcome of the challenge, it’s absolutely clear that North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Trust is offering job security with one hand as a tactic to achieve its immediate aim, while with the other it’s drafting plans to reduce employment that make the job-security ‘carrot’ as fake as a plastic prop on the counter of an IKEA display kitchen.
Sadly, this seems to typify the way in which the majority of NHS Trusts seem to regard their hard-working and vital doctors, nurses and other staff as disposable dupes to be strung along while they’re needed and then disposed of when it’s convenient – and to hell with their welfare or the consequences to patients.
UPDATE: The planned unified hospital that the Tories cancelled was a development costing around £460 million. The new one is to cost £298 million. So on top of all the other drains on resources, the amount to be spent has dropped by 35%. That will inevitably impact on patient care, but it somehow seems to have escaped the notice of whoever wrote the announcement!