NHS IT staff are increasingly anxious that they could face pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year as a result of a government review of working roles in the NHS.
The Agenda for Change review, which is due to come into force nationwide in October, applies to all NHS staff except doctors and dentists. It aims to reward staff with clinical skills and public-facing roles.
This could mean IT staff are sidelined at a time when the £2.3bn national programme for IT most needs them to help implement its applications, NHS IT professionals have told Computer Weekly.
In its national job evaluations, the Agenda for Change only recognises IT roles at trust IT director-level. The NHS has also failed to recognise IT staff in its recruitment and retention premia, which is designed to keep staff with sought-after skills.
One early implementer of the scheme, City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Trust, has delayed its roll-out because too many staff, including those in IT, were losing out, according to a memo from trust chief executive Ken Bremner seen by Computer Weekly.
An IT manager at another early implementer trust said his colleagues were not optimistic. "The feeling in the department is not good. IT staff are under the impression that they are heading for a reduction in salary," he said.
Existing NHS IT staff have vital working relationships with clinicians, medical scientists and other departments which would be lost if they were to leave the NHS, the IT manager said. This could damage progress with the national programme.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Jill George, a member of the national executive council of union Amicus, which represents IT staff, said, "There are quite significant fears".
Most IT staff are likely to be given a band-five evaluation, which pays between £17,000 and £22,000 a year. "While trusts are under such financial pressure, and there are jobs with no national evaluation, then there will be more pressure to keep those salaries down," George said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said, "All jobs will get a profile, but it may be that some are not agreed yet." IT staff will not lose out because they have not been recognised for recruitment and retention premiums, she added.
Changes could lose NHS vital IT staff
About 20,000 IT professionals currently work in a range of NHS organisations. Their existing relationships with clinicians will be essential to win user buy-in to the national programme for IT.
One senior IT manager at an NHS organisation said, "The national programme relies on IT staff being there, but the Agenda for Change is focusing on clinical staff - non clinical staff will lose out.
"They could lose out £3,000-£5,000 a year and some much more, therefore good IT staff will go to the private sector."
He said if key people were lost to the private sector it could severely affect trusts’ ability to implement new IT and change management.