Debate: AfC re-banding

That this meeting of Congress, in the light of pay restraint and downbanding, calls on RCN Council to demand a systematic re-banding of nursing jobs throughout the NHS under Agenda for Change.

The RCN’s employment survey shows that growing numbers of members now think their pay band is not appropriate, with members taking on more responsibility without their job banding being increased. We are also seeing nursing jobs downbanded but an expectation that members will continue to undertake work at the original level.

The AfC pay system was introduced in the NHS in 2004 following years of complex negotiations between trade unions, employers and government. Underpinning this system is a bespoke analytical job evaluation (JE) system that is used to determine where jobs sit on the AfC pay spine. Most nursing roles were placed on the pay spine using national job family profiles created by evaluating commonly occurring roles so that it was not necessary to individually evaluate every job.

The RCN (as other trade unions did) trained its staff and reps in the new JE system and the knowledge and skills framework which cost the RCN a substantial amount of money.

Newly qualified registered nurses were usually placed at Band 5. Pay bands rise as the responsibility and experience of roles increases up to Band 9. In England employers can place staff on pay bands 8c and above on Very Senior Management pay. Trusts are free to determine their own rates of pay for VSMs and often do so at ‘spot rates’ with performance related pay.

Since AfC implementation nursing has changed. It has become more complex and job demands have increased at all levels. However, while nursing profiles have been consolidated and some of the language has been updated they have not kept up with the changes. The consolidated profiles can be found here RCN reps report problems at local level that is undermining the integrity of the JE scheme and potentially penalising nursing staff in terms of the pay they receive for the work to they do.

Some common issues are:

  • Job creep – where lower banded staff take on additional duties and responsibilities, often due to work pressures and staffing shortages, but their pay band is not increased accordingly.
  • Downbanding – where managers reduce the number of higher banded staff and create lower banded roles to replace them. Nurses then often report still being expected to work at the higher level but not being recognized for it.
  • Poor job evaluation practice – many employers outsource their job evaluation work or don’t undertake it according to the rules laid down in the NHS Job Evaluation handbook
  • Some mistakenly believe that court cases such as Hartley vs Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in 2009 have effectively given them immunity against further legal action for equal pay.

These issues have a proportionately harsher impact in Northern Ireland, where Nursing staff are already the lowest paid in the UK.

The Organisational Change policy in place in Wales protects against the worst effects of downbanding. And in Scotland, Partnership Information Network (PiN) policies mitigate against the worst of these issues, including the lifelong protection of terms and conditions under the ‘no detriment’ principle. The extensive range of PiN policies come under the broader ‘once for Scotland’ initiative where decisions are negotiated nationally and then applied to all staff as a minimum standard.

RCN reps want to work in partnership with their employers to ensure good JE practice but too often are not given adequate time to do so. The RCN is supporting members across the UK with grievances caused by poor JE practice and employers seeking to manipulate the AfC system to control costs.

The recent report of the NHS Pay Review Body suggests that governments should take action now to prevent future problems with recruitment, retention and morale that will be caused by ongoing pay restraint. They suggest that recent changes to the national JE profiles for paramedics could serve as “a template to improve productivity by ensuring that job profiles evolve to match changes to NHS roles”. Is it therefore time to demand that the profiles that cover nursing roles are reviewed?

Tuesday morning saw a lively debate around Agenda for change, discussing such issues as job creep, working above their grade and downbanding.

Mike Travis, an RCN steward at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, who proposed the item, said most band 5 nurses haven’t been reviewed since Agenda for Change was introduced in 2004.

“Nurses have the contractual right to have their jobs regularly reviewed. But the pressures on the NHS mean employers have ceased to review jobs routinely as they should.”

Ann Wells, seconder, said that back in 2004 band 5 nurses were in charge of one shift a week, but now it’s all shifts in a week. She reminded congress that Agenda for Change was meant to give fairness across the board with equal work for equal value.

Agenda for change was great when created, Sarah Walters told Congress, but it now needs an overhaul to make it fit for purpose again. She called for all delegates to demand that their job descriptions are overhauled at their next personal development review and then to share that with RCN reps. Jed Swinton agreed, stating that nurses all work over and above their job descriptions, without reward.

Martin McGregor said he has seen downbanding creeping in, and told Congress that we can’t allow this to happen.

Mike Travis, closing the debate said: “This is a big issue for NHS employers. The more they undermine Agenda for Change the higher the risk of them falling foul of equal pay claims.” He urged delegates to vote in favour of the resolution so that Council can empower stewards to take this vital issue up in the workplace.

Result: passed


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16 May 2017 10:45 - 11:15

Location To Be Confirmed


Resolution, submitted by the RCN Greater Liverpool & Knowsley Branch

Page last updated - 04/08/2020