On the insistence of Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, Sir Duncan has warned senior staff that granting some employees bigger increases could be seen as 'unfair' in the current pay round as ministers seek to impose an upper pay limit of 1.5 per cent.
The policy not only affects people employed directly by the NHS, but also those at hospital trusts, many of whom were meant to be the subject of 'local pay bargaining'. Both the Government and the health service management have been keen to promote performance pay and one of the key reasons for restructuring the NHS has been to reward individual effort.
Some management negotiators had interpreted the 1.5 per cent to refer to total wage bills, so that within that limit there could be considerable flexibility.
Unions had been told in recent talks that there might be scope for placing the emphasis on the lower-paid, for instance.
However, the letter from Sir Duncan to managers makes clear his insistence on a relatively rigid application of the pay policy as enunciated in the Autumn Statement.
The memorandum to managers throughout the NHS says: 'Government policy permits flexibility within pay groups provided the settlement limit for the group as a whole is observed. One of the keys to the acceptance of public sector pay restraint by NHS staff, however, is their perception that it is even-handed and that all staff are being treated equally.'
A spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday that a similar message had been given to unions. Representatives of ancillary workers and clerical staff had been offered 1.5 per cent 'across the board'.
The note was to ensure that all organisations within the NHS were aware of the 'fairness' necessary in applying the pay curb.
Leaders of nearly 2 million local authority employees yesterday served notice that they plan to ignore the 1.5 per cent limit in their 1993 pay submissions.