Union warning on pay dispute involving pharmacists at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn

PUBLISHED: 10:50 28 June 2012 | UPDATED: 08:11 01 July 2012

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn. PHOTO: IAN BURT.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn. PHOTO: IAN BURT.

Archant é 2010

A pay dispute involving pharmacists at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn could lead to a healthcare crisis affecting hundreds of patients, union leaders warned last night.

Health union the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) claims staff have been threatened with dismissal unless they agree to a new policy cutting their on-call pay by two-thirds.

It warns the department is already suffering recruitment problems and the hospital could be left without a functioning pharmacy unless existing staff sign the new contract by September 1.

Under the new terms, pharmacists would not be paid for the expert drug advice they provide to doctors and nurses out of hours if the telephone call lasted less than 15 minutes.

The policy could lead to pharmacists taking frequent, often complex, calls throughout the night or the weekend for no extra pay, the union says.

“It is a ridiculous expectation that highly-skilled pharmacists should not be remunerated for their work in providing such a valuable service from home,” said Mark Pitt, assistant general secretary of the PDA.

“The policy is at odds with national NHS guidance in this area. If the trust carries out its threat to dismiss these pharmacists, the consequences for local healthcare provision would be disastrous.

“If our members feel they cannot accept such a cut in their incomes, then the trust won’t have a functioning pharmacy after September 1. What will happen to patients?

“Virtually all the pharmacists currently employed by the trust are refusing to accept the new terms and conditions.”

About 10 staff were sent a letter last month giving them three months to sign the new contract or face the sack, and Mr Pitt said the union was in urgent talks with the QEH.

“The trust is taking a particularly aggressive approach on this issue,” he added. “Our members had very limited opportunities to input into the new arrangements and their concerns have been largely ignored.

“This has resulted in policy that doesn’t reflect the reality of providing an on-call pharmacy service.”

The union believes the QEH is the only trust taking the approach, with most willing to round-up shorter calls into a 15-minute block which is then paid for.

The proposals follow the government’s complete overhaul of NHS pay and working conditions, Agenda For Change, which was first rolled out in December 2004.

On-call rates were the only part of the national pay system not to be reformed and interim arrangements were used until March 31 last year when trusts were expected to have their own agreements - based on national principles - finalised.

Mr Pitt said the QEH was one of several trusts late in making arrangements and several departments were still in discussions.

A QEH spokesman said: “The trust has followed all best practice guidelines in terms of consultation with all staff providing on-all services, seeking to consult with all recognised trade unions.

“We are now looking to finalise arrangements with relevant staff on an individual basis.”

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