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Agenda for Change?

Gail Cartmail - Amicus’ National Officer for health, representing 80,000 members in the National Health Service.

On 12th November Amicus’ 80,000 health sector members will give their answer to the proposal for pay modernisation and job standardisation across the NHS.

This is a bold undertaking. Agenda for Change (AfC) is the first ever attempt to establish harmonisation for Health Service employees on basic conditions of service including pay and working hours.

It seeks to apply the principles of equal pay for work of equal value and to establish a career development plan for each NHS employee. These do not seem particularly high aspirations but they represent a huge leap forward for the 1.3 million NHS workers who have suffered significant pay differentials and who have not previously had career progression paths as part of their contractual arrangements.

Amicus’ health sector members voted last year to back the piloting of AfC at 12 sites. Final results from all these trial sites are not known yet but early indicators shown that there will be winners and losers from AfC, although there will be many more winners than losers among Amicus members.

Significant problems have been identified in the test bed sites and some of these have already been tackled through changes in the proposed agreement but other problems remain, for example the payment for working unsocial hours.

Amicus has chosen not to make a recommendation to members on which way they should vote in the ballot because at the time of our policy conference delegates still had too little information about the final deal. Instead, we have worked to provide our members with as much information as is available at this stage, ‘warts and all’ to enable them to make their decision, including details that will enable them to assess their own place on the proposed pay scales.

AfC is not perfect. Whether our members vote to accept or reject it we know that this is very much the start, not the end, of the process and that there are still major issues to be ironed out. However, the overriding principles of AfC, in establishing a structure that will allow equal value for equal work and career evaluation and progression for all, we wholeheartedly endorse.

We also recognise the government’s commitment to getting this right. They have worked in partnership with the unions from day one and they have sought independent and third party advice from a host of organisations. They have also put their money where their mouth is. The government has provided the biggest ever increases in the annual budget of the NHS and has committed to new capital investment, staff training and over 200,000 additional staff over the next ten years. They have also provided an additional £30 million of new money to fund back fill for NHS employees involved in the development of AfC.

Whatever the ballot result on 12 November AfC cannot be implemented without the full and active support of staff and the unions. We need more than just a simple vote. We have made clear that a consensus must be achieved that will allow us to resolve the outstanding issues.

We will carry on talking and working with them to ensure that all our members can be confident that they will achieve the intended result and benefits of AfC; real equality and career progression based around knowledge and skills.

Amicus’ health sector includes community practitioners and community nurses, theatre nurses, healthcare scientists, pharmacists, professions complementary to dentistry, speech and language therapists, psychologists, psycho-therapists and counsellors, chaplains, sexual health advisors and estates officers and craftspeople plus many other professional and skilled people working for the NHS.