Preparing for the Future

This year Amicus CPHVA faces major tests on the Labour Relations front. Amicus Research and Policy Officer Colin Adkins outlines how the Union intends to maximise the opportunities and minimise the treats from these tests.

The NHS is undergoing a period of seemingly continuous reform or use the Government's language modernisation.  The major challenge on the Labour Relations front was the development of the new pay system under the Agenda for Change (AfC) talks (see Community Practitioner January 2003 pages 33-34).

Some organisations reacted like rabbits caught in car headlights and stopped their normal Labour Relations activities putting all their energy into the AfC talks. With AfC being four years in the making this meant that they missed opportunities to improve their members standard of living in the short term.

Throughout AfC talks we very early on took the view that until there is a deal we treat business as usual. Apart from the normal bargaining round via the Pay Review Body (PRB) process we have been engaged in a series of campaigns that have not only shaped the outcome of AfC but will put us in good stead for the challenges that we face in the future.

Take for example our campaign on the iniquitous Discretionary Points. It was the CPHVA that alone opposed their introduction. Our survey highlighted that they were racist in their application. We managed to persuade the PRB to consolidate one of these giving all Community Practitioners on the top of their scale an increase of around 400 on top of the percentage uplift.

And where are they now. Under AfC they are dead and buried. The safety guarantees contained within Knowledge and Skills framework on the operation of the gateways (see Community Practitioner referenced above) were inserted largely as a result of the Discretionary Points experience which was exposed by our work.

More importantly over the past couple of years we have been engaged in a rigorous campaign on behalf of Community Nursery Nurses, School Nurses and Practice Educators to remind Trusts of their obligation in respect of the clinical grading criteria.

Other organisations miss the point. Clinical grading was not a disaster it was the miss application of the criteria based on notions of grade mix driven by financial considerations which was the disaster. The system also had no dynamic so did not recognise where members roles had evolved (School Nurses) the dynamic contribution of new roles (Community Nursery Nurses. With Practice Educators the criteria were simply abused.

It was not until late last year that one of our sister organisations cottoned on and in an excellent survey exposed the fact that undergrading was driving nurses out of the NHS.

Our successes on Clinical Grading are being reported in almost every issue of Community Practitioner. We have issued specialist guide books and the Advanced Letters for the last three years from the Department of Health to Trusts detailing nurses pay for the year ahead reminded Trusts of their obligations on Clinical Grading largely as a result of our evidence and the effect of our campaigns.

So why is this important? We believe that the new pay system that has been developed under AfC is fairer. It will be for you to decide whether it is better. More immediately your present grade may effect how you assimilate onto the new structure. We want members to be on the correct position on the present system before they move across to the AfC structure.

Organisationally we have continued to grow. Membership amongst Community Nursery Nurses has expanded by over 50 per cent and School Nurses by nearly 20 per cent. Well done to all concerned. As you know the Executive has decided that we seek to boost the numbers of District Nurses that are members.

But there are also some longer-term benefits of the campaigning we have been undertaking. If the AfC proposals are accepted we have to use the new pay template imaginatively to improve service delivery and improve the living standards of our members.

Let us be clear what are objectives are. The Government believes that the initial deal will provide a large investment to help settle claims that nurses are underpaid.  The PRB will continue to advise on the salary rates needed to allow the NHS to recruit nursing staff to meet its health targets.

Future relative advantage in pay terms will depend on the professional development of Community Practitioners and Community Nurses. The vehicle to do this is the Knowledge and Skills Framework.

Often in our organisation the Professional and the Labour Relations work are falsely juxtaposed. This is more so in the new pay system where they are two sides of the same coin. To illustrate what we need to do in the future I highlight our work in school nursing where a new strategy for practice, which was reflected various Government health policy statements, formed the basis of our campaign for more appropriate grading for School Nurses. We are beginning to undertake similar work in community nursery nursing and district nursing.

For the majority of our members in health visiting we need to open areas for extended or specialist practice using the Knowledge and Skills Framework in order that you can advance both professionally and in pay terms. We are seeking rewarding jobs and jobs that reward. This is a potential win/win situation with improved practice resulting in improved pay.  In language that you can understand we want to open opportunities for people to move from G grade to H grade or in the new language of Agenda for Change from Band 6 to Band 7 and beyond.

So how will the professional and labour relations work together to raise the career ceilings? I liken it to a jack. The professional work is the jack itself and the labour relations work the muscle needed to get the jack to raise the ceiling. I understand your scepticism on this front. However I also give notice to Trusts that we prefer to act as a professional body but if they fail to operate the Knowledge and Skills framework in good faith we will act as a trade union.

This year we have three objectives.

  • To finalise the Agenda for Change negotiations.
  • To give Whitley a decent burial.
  • To use the new pay template to develop career and pay progression for our members.

I am confident that we can meet the challenges that we face this year. We have the ideas, we have the organisation and we have the best set of reps in nursing bar none.

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