Nationwide industrial action is on the cards if the government listens to increasing pressure to ditch national pay agreements for NHS staff, unions warned today.
Right-wing think tank Reform upped the ante on the debate in a report published today advising the government to drop national pay agreements and allow health organisations to negotiate its own deal with employees.
Pro-market Reform also praised the 20 "rogue" NHS trusts in the south-west who have formed a "pay cartel" that is considering breaking away from the national framework.
Reform said ministers should offer their "full support" to the consortium and urged Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to reject the argument for maintaining national pay arrangements.
But Unison and GMB said that Reform's report is the "wrong prescription for NHS pay."
Breaking up national pay, terms and conditions would do nothing to improve patient care but would cause massive industrial unrest across the NHS, Unison warned.
The union slammed the unhelpful timing of the report which coincides with "knife-edge" negotiations that took place today with NHS employers aimed at reaching a national agreement on Agenda for Change.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: "Reform's report is writing the wrong prescription for NHS pay. It ignores the fact that Agenda for Change has a proven track record of delivering fairness and for keeping the industrial peace across the NHS."
GMB's national officer for the NHS Rehana Azam said that what keeps the NHS "national" is a national agreement.
"Failure to embrace this will unbuckle and fragment the service, with a skills drain that will see NHS staff moving to regions with better pay and damaging patient care in others," she said.
This week has seen MPs thrash out the debate on regional pay in Parliament.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The NHS is fragmenting before our eyes. It is being broken apart and ministers are doing absolutely nothing about it.
"This week, as we campaign for a Living Wage, we have to defend national pay in the NHS as the health service sets a lead for a whole range of other employers in every community."
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