Nurses' performance pay plan blocked by wage curb

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PLANS TO force National Health Service nurses into a system of performance-related pay have been shelved for another year as a direct result of the 1.5 per cent public sector incomes limit.

The Department of Health has told the Independent that it would be invidious to introduce performance-related pay at a time when the maximum increase in the pay bill was limited to 1.5 per cent.

The department has said that nurses' incremental pay schemes would continue for the year from next April. Brian Mawhinney, Minister of State for Health, has already made a submission to the nurses' pay review body, in effect asking it to recommend a distribution of the additional sum of up to pounds 300m that might be available under the 1.5 per cent limit.

The only public indication of the decision to shelve introduction of performance-related pay for the 485,000 nursing staff in Britain was delivered last week in the small print of the Government's first annual report on the Citizen's Charter. It said: 'More needs to be done to make the links between pay and performance more effective in all parts of the public sector.' An accompanying press notice added: 'Proposals will be made from April for NHS staff covered by the review bodies'.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Public Service and Science said that meant discussions would then begin for implementation in the 1994 pay round, by which time the Government expects 85 per cent of all NHS staff will be covered by NHS trusts, who have the freedom to set their own pay levels.

But this year's report from the Review Body for Nursing Staff, Midwives, Health Visitors and Professions Allied to Medicine, published in February, said the Department of Health had planned to open discussions this year - presenting firm evidence to the review body 'in the Autumn'. It sent the review body 'an outline of the proposals they intended putting to the Staff Side for the introduction of a general scheme for pay flexibility' last November.

Whitehall proposed that the review body would be invited to recommend a 'target average percentage pay increase', from which it could suggest a basic pay rise for all staff - with the balance to be made available 'for local flexibility, including performance pay'.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said: 'I believe the full implications of the Government's (NHS) pay policy are still to be understood. The effect on staff morale, terms and conditions and patient care could be devastating.'