‘It really is a disgrace’ - Norfolk community health bosses anger union with staff wage cuts
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A health group which looks after tens of thousands of patients in the region has been criticised for cutting staff wages, while spending £200,000 on a manager for five months work.
Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust (NCH&C) looks after thousands of patients a day through nurses and therapists visiting people in their homes, as well as in community hospitals, including Norwich Community Hospital on Bowthorpe Road.
But it has angered Unison by increasing total board wages and cutting average staff pay, meaning the trust's 3,000 workers are now paid lower on average than they were four years ago – and more cuts are on the way.
NCH&C is taking another £3.3m from its wage bill this year, according to Unison.
The trust said savings would be made through staff turnover were possible.
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'Where staff are required to do different roles at a lower banding, we apply a period of protected pay,' a spokesperson said.
But the union said these cuts, which come as the trust saves £7m this year, had led to a fall in morale and would impact on patient care.
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Unison regional organiser Jeff Keighley accused NCH&C bosses of 'devouring the organisation in favour of financial aspirations'.
The latest annual staff survey from 2015 showed NCH&C scored above average in one out of 32 measures.
It also revealed almost a quarter of workers had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from other staff at the trust.
But NCH&C said it had low rates of bullying and harassment compared to other NHS trusts in the region.
Mr Keighley also accused the trust of creating a 'pay bonanza' for executives, while there had been a 'harsh down banding of clinical staff'.
In 2014/15 NCH&C had three different chief executives, which cost taxpayers £300,000.
Its annual accounts show interim chief executive Mark Easton cost the trust £200,000 for five-and-half months work.
Mr Easton was employed through an agency and the trust said the £200,000 was paid to the agency rather than to Mr Easton directly.
The figure included agency fees, Mr Easton's salary, benefits, tax and expenses.
'This figure was consistent with market rates at the time,' a spokesperson for NCH&C said.
They added the trust's remuneration committee approved all executive salaries and appointments.
Mr Easton's full-time replacement, Roisin Fallon-Williams, was paid £90-95,000 for six months work in 2014/15. She is the current chief executive and was paid £135,000 last year, according to the trust's annual report.
NCH&C also had three different people in the role of finance director last year, costing £160,000.
The majority of that – £90,000 – was to pay for interim director of finance Roy Jackson for four months work. He was employed through an agency.
While total board salaries have risen by 18pc since 2013/14 from £685,000 to £810,000 last year, average staff pay has fallen.
It is now lower than it was in 2012, standing at £26,014, compared to £26,556 four years ago., a fall of eight percent with inflation.
But the trust said its overall board expenses, which include all staff expenses rather than just wages, had fallen since 2012 from more than £1m to £830,000 this year. A spokesperson added the salaries of their directors were set nationally.
But Mr Keighley said: 'There have been massive Cost Improvement Programmes which savagely reduced wages for the workforce.
'This is completely wrong. So many staff have lost thousands of pounds per year in pay and contributions to their pension by down banding.' The union said NCH&C had previously reduced the wage bill
by putting staff in lower pay brackets.
Mr Keighley said: 'The most important factor here is that downskilling staff and numbers impacts on the service and we expect to see a fall in quality for patients.
'Presently it is only maintained by staff leaving work later that they should. We have had so many disputes over unfair restructures, it really is a disgrace.'
The trust said that average staff pay had fallen because of 'changes to skill mix over time.'
'It is our policy to avoid redundancy where possible and we have a good track record of doing so.'
•What staff said in survey
NCH&C said staff well-being was a priority but Unison has called for an investigation into the results of the latest staff survey.
In the annual survey, the trust scored better than average for community trusts in the country in one out of 32 measures. Those measures range from how staff are treated at work to how often they have appraisals completed.
It was worse than average in 21 of the 32 measures and average in 10.
Mr Keighley from Unison said the poor results warranted an investigation, and highlighted that almost a quarter of staff, 23pc, said they had experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from staff in the last 12 months.
Although that was a fall from 25pc the year before - it has risen from 16pc in 2012.
'Bullying is a symptom of an over worked workforce and poor leadership,' Mr Keighley said.
Less than half of staff said they would recommend the trust as a place to work.
The 2015 survey results also showed that just under 60pc of staff said care of patients was the trust's top priority, compared to 74pc nationally.
The trust said it had 'some of the lowest rates of bullying and harassment of local trusts'.
It said it was using an online workshop to involve staff in identifying improvements and priorities for the organisation.
It also has a 'seven-point plan' to tackle bullying and harassment as well as a health and wellbeing group which looks at reducing stress in the workplace and supports staff implement their own ideas such as a staff choir.
•The trust's future
NCH&C, which has more than 70 types of services in Norfolk and Suffolk, has been trying to gain Foundation Trust status since 2011.
But last November it was told by regulators it had failed to meet the governance criteria for being 'well-led' as well as the financial criteria.
Health groups were encouraged to become Foundation Trusts to get more freedom from central government, including greater control over their finances.
The board decided to pause the Foundation Trust application, before making a decision about whether to apply again.
The trust, which sees around 2,200 patients in their homes each day, said it was waiting for guidance before it considered reactivating its application and in the meantime was focused on playing its part in
re-designing health services in Norfolk and Waveney, through what is called a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP).
Demand on NCH&C services is likely to increase under that plan.
As part of the STP, health chiefs want more patients to be treated in the community and in their homes through services NCH&C's 3,000-strong workforce is already providing, rather than going to hospitals.
NCH&C, which has a budget of around £130m a year, is currently rated as 'Good' by regulators the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
It is also one of the few NHS organisations in eastern England which has managed to avoid falling into deficit as demand increases and budgets are squeezed.
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