A growing number of nurses and doctors in the West are employed on a controversial ‘zero hour’ basis – meaning they are not guaranteed pay.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has led calls for the Government to ‘halt the spread’ of zero hour contracts, which see health chiefs employing clinical staff, but not paying them unless they are called in to work.
He warned the system could see a repeat of the farce ahead of the Olympic Games when G4S could not deliver the promised number of security personnel.
It has now emerged that the controversial South West pay consortium, the group of 20 health trusts in the West that are looking to break away from national NHS agreements so they can pay staff less, is looking into wider use of zero hour contracts.
New figures researched by health writer Dr Eoin Clarke found that the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust, the biggest health body in the city, employs more than 1,200 people with zero-hour contracts – effectively almost all members of staff in clinical, science, medical, dental and nursing posts.
It calls on workers on a shift pattern to meet demand as and when it arises, but unions complain it means workers don’t get paid when they are not needed and find it difficult to get mortgages as they are not guaranteed a fixed income.
NHS Dorset also employs hundreds of staff on the same basis, as does the NHS in South Gloucestershire.
Health chiefs in Bristol said operating like that saved the taxpayer money.
“I’m calling on the Government to halt the spread of zero-hours contracts in the NHS pending an urgent review into the potential risks to continuity of care and patient safety,” said Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary.
“What is going on here is the unpicking of the fabric of the employment system of the NHS in England. Zero hours contracts have previously operated safely within the NHS. “They suited some staff willing to trade a bit of uncertainty for extra pay. But it’s very different to extend these contracts into core delivery services. It is the casualisation of our health service, turning parts of the NHS into a ‘temping’ workforce,” he said, adding hospitals could face a situation if they hand over their staffing to private providers who assure them they can provide staff, only to find – like G4S at the Olympics – that those staff aren’t there.
But a spokesman for UH Bristol said the zero hour contracts worked well.
“University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust runs its own temporary staffing bureau, which currently has over 1,200 staff members,” she said. “These staff undergo the same employment checks, induction and training updates as full and part-time staff members. They are employed on zero hour contracts, fill vacant shifts when these arise and are paid an hourly rate for the hours they work.”