Headlines: October 7th, 2005

An agreement has been reached that will mean thousands of National Health Service cleaners and porters as well as people employed in so-called “soft facilities management” services provided by contractors, will be brought into line with the NHS Agenda for Change pay deal. The full agreement comes into effect in a year’s time but interim measures will see all staff covered by the new settlement getting an increased hourly pay rate immediately.The agreement has been reached between the Department of Health, relevant NHS Unions, the CBI, BSA and the new health service employers organisation, as part of the NHS Agenda for Change programme, which covers 1.2 million employees. The new deal will give cleaners, porters and other staff working for contractors, pay and conditions that are no less favourable overall than the Agenda for Change pay deal. The terms also provide for better development and training and closer involvement in workforce reforms for those covered by the settlement.

The costs of the new arrangements will be shared with the contractors in the interim period. From October next year the bill for the full agreement will be met by the public sector. It is estimated at 75 million pounds, which has been allowed for in allocations to Primary Care Trusts.The Department of Health will now contact NHS organisations as soon as possible to encourage them to endorse the joint approach and businesses that wish to bid for new NHS contracts will have to make a commitment to it. The Department will make it clear that if industrial relations or service quality issues arise in relation to soft facilities management contracts, it will question whether the best practice set out in this new approach has been followed.

Interim measures will see staff covered by the agreement getting a minimum 5 pounds 65 pence an hour immediately, rising by 23 pence an hour from next April, to match the current minimum under Agenda for Change. The Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said cleaners, porters and catering assistants were all part of the team delivering care to patients in every hospital, whether they were employed directly or through a contractor, and they were key to delivering cleaner hospitals, reducing MRSA, helping patients get access to services and ensuring patients had nutritious meals.

“The NHS is a unique institution and this agreement demonstrates that all parties central to its success – the public sector, unions and the private sector – can work together effectively to achieve the reform of the NHS to create a modern health service,” she said. Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, said the agreement was a step forward in ending the two-tier workforce in the NHS and the new minimum wage would drive up standards and help to tackle the recruitment and retention problems that many hospitals were facing. Staff would feel more valued and respected as an integral part of the NHS team.