Paying nurses different salaries depending on where in the country they work would punish the poorest areas and entrench regional inequality, the Labour Party has said.
In his budget address last month, chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne said he wanted public sector pay to be 'more responsive to local pay rates' in order to 'help our private sector to grow and create jobs in all parts of the country'. Changes could involve replacing nationally-agreed Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scales with locally-negotiated agreements.
But speaking at the Unison Health conference in Brighton yesterday (Monday, 23 April), shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said implementing 'market facing pay' in the NHS would effectively mean the end of the national health service.
'AfC is based on a crucial principle: equal pay for work of equal value,' Mr Burnham said. 'It is the glue of the NHS. If you leave pay levels to the market, how can it be a national health service?'
He continued: 'You end up with the poorest services in the poorest areas. It's about the north/south divide. If we were to let the government go down this path it would entrench regional inequalities.'
Mr Burnham also repeated his commitment to throwing out the Health and Social Care Act if he becomes health secretary following the next general election.
Elsewhere at the conference, Unison general secfetary Dave Prentis said strike action was a real possibility if ministers moved to scrap national pay structures.
'We have a message for (health secretary) Andrew Lansley. We will not sit back and allow Andrew Lansley to destroy our national pay agreement. If he tries to undermine AfC, if he tries to reduce the pay of our members who live and work in poorer communities, if the unjust and unfair pay freeze does not end - we will make our stand. Our stand for what is right, what is just.
'They've attacked our pensions and we resisted. If they come for our pay we will be ready, prepared and if we need to move to industrial action to protect everything that is right then we will do it.'