A NURSING union is calling on Dorset County Hospital and other NHS trusts that have signed up to a controversial pay consortium to look at other options.

The Dorchester hospital is one of 20 South West trusts, along with the Dorset NHS Healthcare University Foundation Trust, to have signed up to the consortium looking at pay, terms and conditions.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has become the latest group to hit out at the move, claiming that the trusts should look at cutting costs elsewhere rather than through the workforce, which it claims has already been badly hit.

A report produced by the union to back up its arguments against the consortium states: “The RCN acknowledges that trusts in the South West have financial challenges and that savings need to be made. However, we believe that the workforce is the wrong place to start. Cutting pay or jobs will put even more pressure on an already weakened workforce.

“Other areas of potential savings such as procurement, drug waste, innovation and expensive PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contracts need to be looked at first, and any changes must be clinically led.”

The report states the South West has lost more registered nurses than any other region, while also having the highest number of older people.

It concludes: “We acknowledge that this change will create challenges for the workforce, but simply reducing pay or making short-sighted workforce cuts is not the answer at a time when the health care needs of the population are set to increase.

“Not only is there a real risk that staff will be forced to leave the NHS, but it will also be difficult to recruit, and the morale of remaining staff will be damaged further.

“Rather than working together to cut staff pay, terms and conditions, employers should be collaborating to transform services and bring care closer to home.”

The RCN’s regional director Jeannett Martin said: “These proposals are very bad for patients and bad for the South West economy. Our report shows that there is no justification for hardworking nurses in the South West being paid less than other nurses in the rest of the country. If this happens then health care workers will have less of their pay available to spend within the South West.

“This will have a serious impact on the already fragile economy of the South West.” She added: “We want employers to work with their staff to find long term solutions to their problems that will not reduce the quality of patient care.”

County Hospital’s Response

Dorset County Hospital ’s director of workforce and human resources Mark Power said: “We welcome the valuable focus the RCN’s report places on the challenges facing trusts in the South West.

“The South West Consortium exists to help meet these and other challenges in the best interests of our patients, staff and all those who rely on us.

“The decline in nursing workforce in the South West, as noted in the report, represents a valuable benchmark, prior to any amendments to pay, terms and conditions that may be consulted upon. A key intention of member trusts is to reduce the need to make redundancies as far as possible. To help achieve our aims, we require pay, terms and conditions which are fit for purpose, and that support us in ensuring we have the best possible chance to be solvent, sustainable employers and service providers.

“It is for individual trust boards, not the consortium, to decide on any future involvement with this programme. As each trust individually made a commitment to join the consortium at a properly constituted board meeting, it is entirely appropriate that each organisation also considers its future involvement at such a forthcoming meeting.”