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BREAKING NEWS: UPDATE 20:15, 25th July 2018:

The head of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, has today taken the unprecedented step of writing to members to apologise that staff were given incorrect information about their pay deal voted on in the Spring, and large numbers have received less than the RCN told them they would receive. The email (seen by Our NHS) confirms OurNHS’s revelations last week. In it, Ms Davies says:

“I wanted to write to you myself over the recent NHS pay deal. It has come to my attention in the last 24 hours that the deal was not as straightforward as we said and for that I offer you a sincere personal apology.

“I’m as dismayed and angry as you are and will fight the corner of members at every turn. In good faith, we told all members that they would receive a 3 per cent uplift this summer. I now find that this is not the case for everyone.

“I can assure you that I am demanding answers for you. In the meantime, I can only apologise for this unnecessary confusion and assure you that I am determined to resolve it. Your elected Council and Trade Union Committee will be meeting in the next few days and I will update you on next steps.”

OurNHS will cover this rapidly developing story as it unfolds tomorrow.

NHS staff vented fury yesterday as newly published figures suggested that they may have accepted a pay offer last month on the basis of information that did not mean what they thought it did.

The three-year deal – trumpeted by Jeremy Hunt as “an incredibly well deserved pay rise for staff who have never worked harder” – came after years of pay freezes and real-terms pay cuts. NHS staff were expecting a nice chunk of back pay for the first year’s rise to be in their pay packets at the end of July (as they’ve been paid at last year’s rate until everything was settled).

But many NHS workers could be in for a nasty shock. NHS Employers, the official body in charge of NHS staff, has just published the new 2018/9 pay rates– and to many NHS workers they do not appear to be the same as the 2018/9 pay figures staff were pointed to before they voted on the deal. In fact, averaged across all pay bands and scale points, they appear to award initially only around half the pay rise from April 2018 that many staff may have been expecting, according to OurNHS’s calculations.

Nearly a million staff are covered by the NHS pay deal, though not hospital doctors. Unions thrashed out the deal with the government in March, and balloted their members in the spring, with most union leaderships (except the GMB) recommending support. There were arguments about the headline figures, so most unions strongly advised their members to check out what it meant for them on a ‘pay calculator’ before making up their minds. (Unison created its own calculator which drew from and was identical to the NHS Pay one).

For example, Unison emailed members in April, saying, “It’s really important that you understand what it would mean for you before you cast your vote. If you haven’t already, you might find trying out our pay calculator useful – just enter your pay point and your pay band to find out exactly how much your salary would change.”

Similarly Unite emailed members in March, linking to the calculator.

However, it now transpires that, when spinning the new deal, the NHS employers jumbled up two different things in the pay calculators. One was the long-awaited (not very big) cost of living increase across the NHS. The other, Often much larger part of the pay rise people were told they would get turns out to be the normal pay increase that most NHS employees receive every year anyway, in recognition of their growing experience. This is known as their ‘increment’.

A bigger problem arises because the cost-of-living increase and the increment will be received on very different dates. While many staff thought that the whole new salary would be back-dated to the start of the financial year in April, in fact, only the relatively small cost of living increase will be. Their annual increment – usually the bigger part of the increase – will only come in on the anniversary of when they started with the NHS: which could be many months later. The result is that many staff will be earning hundreds – or even thousands – of pounds less this year than they had understood when they voted for the package. The issue potentially affects nearly half of NHS staff, though those on the top of their pay bands are not affected as they were not due an increment anyway, and those on the very lowest levels of pay (the 90,000 staff currently earning under £17,460) are not affected as they will get the full pay rise with effect from 1 April, unlike other staff.

In fact, it’s not just staff who are confused. I’ve asked NHS Employers and the unions to explain the discrepancy, and have had totally conflicting answers.

Today, the Royal College of Nursing press office told me that a typical nurse on point 20 in the middle of Band 5 (for example), previously earning £25,551 a year, would receive the entire rise with effect from the 1st of April, saying “yes, that member of staff will earn £26,963 [the new rate for that point and band] with effect from April 2018”.

But both Unison and NHS Employers have today made clear to OurNHS that that member of staff would be paid only £25,934 from the 1 April. That’s only around a quarter of their promised 2018 increase on basic pay (a difference of nearly £100 a month in this typical example) until their increment payment kicks in at their anniversary date at some point over the following 12 months.

The RCN also told OurNHS that “the original calculator is for existing staff, and the NHS Employers poster sets out what new staff will earn. Two different tools serving different purposes. Existing staff should use the old calculator to work out their pay uplift.” But this is not what other unions and NHS Employers seem to be saying.

OurNHS asked the RCN if they understood why staff might feel they had been misled. They replied, “We are working with NHS Employers to produce a simple explanation of the differences between the individual pay journey document, and the pay calculator, pay scales and new web tool, to prevent further confusion and information overload. We are hoping this will be published this Friday 20th July in time for pay day the following week.”

OurNHS has approached NHS Employers for comment, but has not received any formal statement at the time of writing.

GMB’s National Officer Rachel Harrison commented, “All that glitters is not gold and it’s now clear that Jeremy Hunt’s last act was to try and mislead NHS workers who have already endured years of real-terms pay cuts. We have always warned that the devil would be in the detail, and so it has proved…That is why GMB is holding an indicative ballot for industrial action over this pay offer.”

Furthermore, the GMB told OurNHS that under the pay deal, the ‘increment’ is no longer automatic or definite – in future, it will depend on assessment, though there will be a transitional period (though we’ve been told contradictory infomation about this).

A Unison spokesperson told OurNHS that the need to implement the pay offer as soon as possible meant that the existing issue of the split between April part rises and incremental / anniversary rises later in the year, had not been addressed. The union’s deputy head of health, Helga Pile, said “this agreement won’t solve all problems overnight, but it will ease the financial strain suffered by staff over many years. The deal delivers substantial increases to starting salaries, meaningful pay rises on promotion and faster progression through most pay bands”.

The small print in the materials promoted to staff did make reference to increment dates, OurNHS has established. But the question remains, were both the employers and the union leaderships (except the GMB) perhaps (after years of bruising battles, and a long strike over separate junior doctors’ negotiations the previous year) perhaps a little too keen on sealing a deal?

The confusion is likely to stoke fury, with many staff affected across the board.A senior nurse or Occupational Therapist on pay band 6, point 28, was promised an increase of £3,995 in year one – but instead, according to NHS Employers, from April 2018 they’ll get only £508 more until their incremental increase kicks in. At more junior levels an experienced Healthcare Assistant in the middle of Band 3 will have been expecting their pay to rise by £1039, but instead from April 2018 until their increment kicks in will get an increase of only £291 a year. Such examples are typical – according to OurNHS’s calculations, on the basis of the pay calculator information, NHS employees (averaged across all grades and pay points) were expecting a pay rise from April 2018 of £2,184.18 a year. To begin with at least, they’ll get less than half that – an average across all grades from April 2018 of £973.16. (Note – all these figures are higher than the actual average across all staff, because they are skewed by the relatively small number of staff on higher grades).

The deal also incudes a “no detriment” clause, which means that no one should be worse off. But mmembers of NHS staff Facebook groups were last night saying they felt “shafted”, “screwed over” and that “the government has lied” – with some also criticising unions. All of this gives weight to union activists warnings that NHS staff would have been better rejecting the pay deal and taking further industrial action.

Unison activist Greg Dropkin commented last night that the source of the discrepancy was “unclear” but he suspected there had been “a failure to explain during the vote that the pay table as circulated did not show the rate for each pay point, but the rate which an employee who was on that pay point in 2017/18 could “expect” to receive in each of the following years…we all deserve to be told why the deal being implemented by the Employers is not the deal many members believed they had voted for”.

Perhaps it’s just a case of ‘buyer beware’ – or ‘voter beware’ (there’s a lot of that about in Brexit Britain). Should have read the small print.

And perhaps it’s just sheer chance that NHS Employers happened to release actual figures last week, when just about everyone’s attention was maxed out with Donald Trump’s visit, the World Cup and the government falling apart.

Certainly, our investigation suggests there are serious questions to answer about whether NHS workers were misinformed about the impact on their pay, and if so, what that means for the future.

19 July: This article has been amended to clarify that no staff should be worse off as a result of this deal, and that we’ve been told contradictory information about the exact timing of changes to the increment process.

20 July: this article has been further amended to remove reference to average salary changes while we discuss these with health unions.

25 July: this article has been amended to reinstate the reference to average changes, and also to further clarify the timing of those changes and that there are some groups of staff not affected by these issues.

This article appeared first on openDemocracy.

About the Author: Caroline Molloy is co-editor of openDemocracy UK, editor of OurNHS, a journalist and speaker. She has been involved in many community campaigns, including successfully overturning the privatisation of 9 hospitals. Her particular interests include technology, services and the welfare state.