Zero-hours nurses at the Royal Free in line for pay cut of up to 91p an hour

Bank nurses pay at the Royal Free will be cut over the next three years. Picture: Lynn Cameron/PA Im

Bank nurses pay at the Royal Free will be cut over the next three years. Picture: Lynn Cameron/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

“Zero-hours” critical care nurses at the Royal Free Trust are facing a pay cut that could set them back thousands of pounds a year, the Ham&High can reveal.

Sue Lister. Picture: Royal College of Nursing

Sue Lister. Picture: Royal College of Nursing - Credit: Royal College of Nursing

Bosses at the hospital in Hampstead told “bank” nurses three weeks ago they would cut the hourly pay of band 5 staff by 79p and band 6 staff by 91p.

The nurses affected specialise in working in the areas known as critical care; theatre, emergency care, the intensive care unit. The changes affect the whole trust.

Bank nurses are workers who undertake shifts for a particular hospital trust as required by a rota or manager. They can cover illness or other staffing needs.

The staff work in a similar situation to a zero-hours contract. They are under no obligation to take shifts, and have no contractually guaranteed hours. They do not receive employee sick pay, but do have cash to the value of other workers’ annual leave incorporated into their hourly rates. This fits in with ACAS’s definition of a zero-hours contract.

The Royal Free disputes this and says the NHS does not employ staff on zero-hours contracts.

However the Royal Free has told the Ham&High that the cuts is “not about cutting staff pay.”

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In the letter, the Royal Free says it has compared their pay with other nearby trusts and found it to be higher. The hospitals benchmarked against include Watford Hospital and the North Middlesex University Hospital, which are smaller than the Royal Free and further from central London.

The trust says it used the hospitals outside central London as a comparator for its sites at Chase Farm and Barnet.

The hospital told staff: “The current Royal Free London rates exceed those paid by neighbouring trusts. The current rates also exceed the rates being paid to agency nurses on shifts, making agency nurses for these shifts the more cost-effective option.”

Staff joining the bank list will automatically be paid the lower amount, while existing staff will have their pay cut year-on-year for three years until they reach the same rate.

One nurse at the Royal Free said the cut will cost her more than £5000 over three years. She also said it makes her feel undervalued worried about patient safety.

“We’re very angry at how this has been communicated,” she said. “We’re fighting through with our unions to get it sorted. In some areas they have a 40 per cent vacancy rate, and they need bank staff like us. Otherwise that level of vacancy rate isn’t safe.

“To say agency staff are cheaper isn’t true. Not only do they take commission, but the staff are not as skilled [and don’t] know the local hospital as well.”

The Royal Free said the cuts were about “using taxpayers money wisely” and said it hopes bank staff will become permanent.

A spokesperson said: “After a benchmarking exercise, it is clear that for some shifts we are paying our bank nurses for critical care, more than other hospitals.

“The bank system is designed to help provide cover for when permanent staff are unwell, on leave or for short term vacancies in teams. This is not the same as ‘zero hours’ contracts – bank nurses are entitled to annual leave, holiday pay, and can join the NHS pension scheme.”

They said the new rates will be reviewed over the three years to ensure they are “competitive.”

In its “vision, mission and values” document, the Royal Free says one of its annual objectives is to “improve the recruitment and retention of staff and make the organisation a great place to work”.

Royal College of Nursing senior officer Sue Lister called on the trust to halt the new rate. She said: “We are extremely concerned about the effect that implementing this new rate will not only have on the pockets of our members but also on the ability for the Royal Free to adequately staff its critical care units.

“Currently there is a disproportionate reliance on bank staff within specialist services at the Royal Free – if staff choose to vote with their feet and boycott these new rates by refusing to work bank shifts, patient care could suffer.

“There has been a lack of engagement with affected staff and there remain a number of questions about the process that has been carried out to establish the new rate.

“If the Trust is not careful it risks losing many of its skilled critical care nursing staff who are already hard to come by. We are calling on the Royal Free to immediately pause the roll-out of the new rate and sit round the table with us so that we can all negotiate a way forward.

Unison are also representing bank nurses affected by the change.