Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
Ministers in Scotland have “not ruled out” reopening the final year of the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay deal and giving nurses a higher award in recognition of their efforts in tackling Covid-19.
The statement was made in first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s “Programme for Government” document for 2020-21, which sets out the Scottish Government’s plans and priorities for next year.
“We note the government is actively considering ways to reward the efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic”
In Scotland, a clause was written into the AfC deal – which was agreed in 2018 for three years – that allows it to be renegotiated if required.
In the wake of the pandemic, the country branch of the union Unison launched a “Pay Up Now” campaign to lobby the government to reopen the final year of the deal, which runs until March, and grant a higher pay rise.
Unison Scotland has held socially distanced demonstrations and has also recently met with health secretary Jeane Freeman to argue its case.
The government has now indicated that it is open to the idea as it looks to begin official talks with unions over a 2021-22 deal for NHS staff.
The Programme for Government document stated: “As we are now in the last year of the three‑year AfC pay deal, we are working closely with NHS unions to agree a timetable to secure a new pay deal for 2021‑22.
“As part of this we are considering several options which take into account the efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic, and have not ruled out revisiting the final year of the current three‑year pay deal as part of that 2021‑22 deal.”
Meanwhile, the government also pledged to take action to better support the mental health and wellbeing of health and social care staff, backed initially by £5m of funding.
As part of this, a specialist mental ill-health assessment and treatment service will be implemented designed specifically for professionals who work in regulated environments, such as nurses.
The “workforce specialist service” will be the most comprehensive of its kind in the UK and will be delivered through a multi‑disciplinary team of mental health care providers, said the government.
A new “health and social care mental health network” will also be developed, while boards will be given extra money to expand the therapeutic offer for their employees locally.
Other key commitments included a promise to establish a national race equality network by the end of 2020.
The network would “produce an action plan with annual progress targets for health and social care employment at all levels of seniority in relation to minority ethnic groups”, the document stated.
It would also review existing recruitment and promotion processes and work to increase the number of ethnic minority staff in senior and executive roles.
The government also set out a plan for “remobilising our NHS services” and pledged to “accelerate our reforms of how NHS services are provided in the community” as the coronavirus pandemic continued.
“For too long, health and care staff have been expected to put the needs of others ahead of their own”
This work would involve the development of countrywide network of community treatment centres to allow more patients to “manage their conditions and get treatments closer to home”.
Significantly, the document also outlined plans for an independent review of the social care system in Scotland and to consider the creation of a National Care Service.
Unison Scotland welcomed the comments in Programme for Government around pay but is still pushing for a solid commitment in terms of a backdated rise.
Secretary Mike Kirby said: “We note the government is actively considering ways to reward the efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic as part of the 2021-22 pay deal and look forward to reaching agreement on this.”
In addition, Mr Kirby described the announcements around improved mental health and wellbeing support for health and care staff as “very positive”.
Eileen McKenna, associate director of Royal College of Nursing Scotland, also welcomed the government’s commitment to “look again at how nursing staff and all those working in health and care are valued and rewarded”.
Nationally the college is fighting for an immediate 12.5% increase for all AfC nursing staff across the UK, as part of its recently launched Fair Pay for Nursing campaign.
Ms McKenna added: “Nursing staff in all settings should be awarded fair pay, terms and conditions of employment and this needs to be a key consideration of the independent review of social care.
“The RCN is looking forward to ensuring the voice of our members is heard by the review panel and that the fundamental role registered nurses play in providing safe, person centred care in Scotland’s care homes is recognised.”
She said the RCN was engaging with the Scottish Government on its work to get NHS services back up and running and to expand the offer in the community.
However, she noted that it was “disappointing that the critical role of nursing in delivering these services is not referenced in the Programme for Government”.
Separately, Norman Provan, also an associate director at RCN Scotland, praised the commitments in the document around staff wellbeing.
He said: “For too long, health and care staff have been expected to put the needs of others ahead of their own.
“The pandemic has highlighted the pressure and emotional challenges faced by Scotland’s health and care staff, day in day out, as they care for others.
“It is vital that employers are supported to do all they can to protect the mental health and wellbeing of nursing and other health and care staff, if Scotland is to attract and retain the workforce it needs.”