Two weeks ago, a senior civil servant contacted Michael Fuller to ask about setting up a group of senior trade union officials to look at pay and the implementation of Agenda For Change (AfC). Although it was noted that SPRIG is looking at the latter, a meeting took place a week later with a high power management side comprising Gerry Marr and several HR Directors. There was no agenda, but apparently the Service, i.e. Chief Execs and HR Directors, wants to sort out a pre-AfC deal to take the pressure of existing pay and grading claims out of the system.
The first meeting was fairly stormy and adjourned with the management side agreeing to prepare a set of proposals for the second meeting. By the time of that meeting, it was known that the Health Minister was intending to issue a directive removing all local bargaining power from trusts by December 1st 2003. A meeting of Chief Execs and HR Directors with the Minister had apparently agreed that the only way to get the NHS out of the headlines prior to the election in 2003 would be for the Minister to remove local bargaining powers, which legally he has the power to do. It was noted that the current pressures in the system on waiting times, budgets and having no industrial action are not compatible. This would therefore leave only one month to sort out the claims that are in the system.
At the next meeting of the SPF, Gerry Marr stated that the Service (N.B. not the Health Dept) wanted to make a proposition to the trade unions about managing pay better than is done at the moment. There would be a concordat between the unions and the Service to cover all pay and mass grading claims and a decision on exactly what would be included and what excluded from the process. Harmonisation is one issue where it has still to be decided whether to include it or not. A meeting of Chief Execs had mandated the Service to agree the concordat and set up the necessary mechanisms. This arrangement would be a prelude to the HR Forum and dovetail with AfC. Low pay would be the first issue to be dealt with. It was noted that Argyll & Clyde have agreed a low pay deal in the face of industrial action and have stated that the cost will be added to their deficit. This is unlikely to go down well with the Executive and an imminent sacking appears likely.
SEHD seem to think AfC will be published in November, but Amicus predictions are for December or early next year. There is concern that the concordat would effectively be a Scottish pay system and that, if agreed, everything else within the system would be frozen where it was.
It is likely that although the politicians are not visible in this, it is about clearing the headlines prior to an election. No paperwork is available as yet, although there are hints that it will include a "no strikes" clause. As England is now openly talking about Oct 04 and even April 05 for implementation, the concordat would run for at least two years.
The advantages for management are clear. What are not so clear are the advantages for members. Over the last 4-5 years the union took a decision about becoming involved in partnership, which gave some sort of equity between unions. There have been some tensions within the process about management not delivering and the Health department being unaccountable and not opening up to union involvement. Amicus-MSF has said that partnership is best for professions who do not easily switch into industrial action mode. The problem with partnership is that the wins have not been published well enough to the members. There are some benefits, though. It fits with the unionís philosophy of no local bargaining.
Amicus-MSF need to decide
- Do we sign up to this and take the current low pay claims to the concordat?
- Do we stand against it and run each claim separately? or
- Do we use the next 2-3 weeks to put in as many claims as possible?
The key to answering this is whether we think that the concordat is deliverable. Unison say they have no control centrally over their branches. If Unison branches challenge the agreement or take industrial action, will the concordat stand up to them? Will they stand firm if it is going to adversely affect waiting times?
Members need to know that the concordat will deliver something for them. Although there is no Scottish dimension to AfC, we do have SPRIG looking at its implementation. The concordat will be dressed up as a precursor to AfC, but it remains to be seen how AfC will affect anything agreed by the concordat. Similarly to AfC, we are being asked to agree the concordat before knowing what the structures will be.
There is some opposition to this concordat suggestion down south. There are still many unknowns, but if everyone else signs up, we are obviously at a clear disadvantage if we don't. There is a possibility of a meeting being held on 4th November that may result in some paperwork being produced. It will be necessary to make a decision on a course of action shortly after. It was agreed that Michael Fuller should continue in discussions and that a meeting of the SNHSC would be convened to decide how to proceed.
As of January 2003, the new HR Forum (HRF) will be operational and SEHD will shortly be writing out for nominations. It was therefore necessary for the committee to elect who our representatives on the two bodies (SPF & HRF) would be. It was unanimously agreed that Michael Fuller would be our representative on the SPF and, after an election contested by three candidates, Ray Stewart was returned as our representative on the HRF. The SPF will have a staff side of 14 and the HRF one of 19. Each forum will meet in January to decide who fills the two joint secretaries and joint chair posts that they have.
The SPF still has two pieces of unfinished business to attend to. They have still to make a decision on whether a review of the oranisational chage policy will be carried out. If there is to be a review, it will be carried out by the HRF. It was suggested to Michael Fuller that the SPF might like to negotiate for the policy to be made permanent and for it to apply to AfC in return for agreeing to the concordat. Secondly, the SPF has finally decided to issue advice on and a framework for implementation of the Working Time Regulations. This will protect any existing agreements, but is still only advice. The ability to derogate from the Regulations is due to be cancelled in 2004/5 and it is anticipated that this will cause considerable problems with most out-of-hours agreements.
This was the regular, six-monthly, meeting with the Chief Pharmacist and attended by myself, Don Page and Michael Fuller, Amicus R.O. Jim Bannerman was, unfortunately, unable to attend. There were some interesting discussions on the formation of a Healthcare Scientists Federation in Scotland and current pharmacy workforce strategies. Recruitment, retention and Agenda for Change also featured. Mr Scott updated the meeting with progress on implementation of The Right Medicine and trying to link out-of-hours community pharmacy provision with local out-of-hours medical provision.
There was also some discussion on the apparent ignorance in NHS Trusts of the significance of their pharmacy departments being registered premises. As the Trust is the body corporate, a named Superintendent Pharmacist must be registered as such with the RPSGB and assume certain legal responsibilities or the trust is risking prosecution. In the majority of cases, this role will be performed by the Trust Chief Pharmacist who will then be responsible for any errors made within the pharmacy, rather than the Chief Executive or Trust Chair, as in most other departments. Any change in the arrangements must be notified to the RPSGB under the regulations of the Medicines Act. Whether this role has been appreciated or considered within the job evaluation exercise of Agenda for Change is something that needs to be determined.