Plans by West NHS trusts to break away from national pay structures and force through wage cuts show the chaos engulfing the health service, Labour said yesterday.
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham condemned the scheme – which could see thousands of doctors and nurses sacked unless they agree to drastic changes in pay and conditions.
The Western Daily Press reported last month that the South West trusts were paying consultants to find ways of saving money on staff costs – at a time when the Government is boasting of protecting English NHS budgets.
Proposals for regional pay are being considered by Chancellor George Osborne, though they are opposed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The health union Unison says the 20 trusts confirmed as signing up and paying £10,000 to become a member of the pay consortium include many of the biggest in the West.
North Bristol and University Hospitals Bristol, Dorset County Hospital and Healthcare University, Gloucester Hospitals, North Devon, Royal United Hospital Bath, Salisbury Foundation, Somerset Partnership and Taunton and Somerset trusts are all involved.
It is not clear whether chief executives and managers are volunteering for pay cuts and extra hours.
Labour yesterday secured a Commons debate on the NHS, and urged Prime Minister David Cameron to honour his keyelection pledge not to cut the NHS.
Mr Burnham said the reality was the coalition had cut the NHS budget for two years running, and begun a distracting £3 billion reorganisation.
The direct results included the South West trusts launching a bid to break away from national pay, he claimed.
Mr Burnham said: “Ministers have lost control of NHS finances and what we are seeing is an increasingly crude and random approach to reducing costs.
“A clear sign of the chaos engulfing the NHS is the move by a breakaway group to cut pay and break national pay arrangements – in open defiance of a promise by the Deputy Prime Minister to prevent regional pay.”
Health Minister Simon Burns told the Commons: “Far from the meltdown that some gleefully predicted, we have seen a robust and resilient NHS delivering better care for patients.”
He said, referring to the South West consortium, that : “It is for employers not the Government to lead negotiations on the terms and conditions of their staff and to do that with the agreement of staff.
“The ongoing negotiations on Agenda for Change are about ensuring patients and taxpayers get the maximum value for money from every penny spent on the NHS, ensuring it is spent efficiently and effectively. The negotiations are not about a pay cut and we would not support one.”