Plans to cut sickness payments

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A HOSPITAL trust has launched a consultation with staff on plans to abolish enhanced sickness payments.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is proposing to cut extra payments to staff who call in sick while rostered to work unsocial hours, during the night or on weekends, or on bank holidays.

The trust, which runs hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton, currently pays staff more for working during these hours and when they are off sick they still get the enhanced payments.

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But the consultation has been launched after the trust launched its £40m challenge and asked staff to come up with ideas to either save money or bring in additional income.

Many staff said it would save the trust a lot of money if it removed sickness enhancements.

But union leaders say the move would put enormous financial pressures on staff who are too unwell to attend work.

From April to August this year the enhancements cost £217,479 of the £2,540,239 overall sickness billl at the trust, not counting the cost of overtime or agency staff to cover for absence.

In 2011-12 enhancements amounted to £432,961 of the £5,777,482 total and in 2010-11 enhancements accounted for £406,818 of the £5,808,600 sickness bill.

Director of human resources Clare Curran said: “As well as having to pay the enhanced rates to staff who are absent, we also often have to bring in agency staff to cover these posts and pay those people enhanced rates of pay.

“Absence puts additional pressure on staff who are at work and adds to the trust’s financial pressures.

“Our staff believe we should reward attendance, not absence and as a trust we fully support that and we are seeking to reduce sickness absence rates through occupational health and other ways of supporting staff.”

Ms Curran added: “In looking at ways to meet our £40m challenge we considered the cost of sickness and sickness enhancement payments, we were beginning to think that we were faced with little alterative than cutting posts to be able to pay for it.

“If the sickness enhancements for this year continue at their current rate, then we will be paying the equivalent of 20 staff nurse posts just to afford it. It simply doesn’t make sense to pay staff unsocial hours enhancements when they haven’t worked unsocial hours.”

Trust chiefs say the payments are part of the national pay structure and they are keeping an eye on the situation.

Duncan Rothwell, regional organiser for the public sector workers’ union Unison, said: “The trust is seeking to impose a short-term fix to what it perceives to be a sickness absence problem.

“They should be working in partnership with the trade unions and manage a reduction in sickness absence.”