Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Integration of Partnership Group – York Teaching Hospitals NHS FT

Overcoming challenges together to enable better outcomes for all is the ultimate goal of partnership working.

When York and Scarborough Hospitals came together to form York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, inevitably during this period of transition, a number of difficult and potentially emotive issues arose.

Two well-established union groups were brought together to form an expanded staff side and Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) and the first big issue the trust’s newly-integrated Partnership Group faced was a thorny one – how to harmonise its on-call arrangements.

Like many trusts across the country, they faced the prospect of trying to rationalise a very wide range of remuneration rates and hybrid situations that had evolved over time or were operated under local agreements.

From the outset it was clear there would be winners and losers and, for some staff, any agreement would have significant impact at a time when all staff were adjusting to the integration of the hospitals into a single organisation.

Against this uncertain and emotive backdrop, the Partnership Group of managers, staff and union representatives came together to discuss, consult and negotiate with new colleagues.

As part of the integration process, a central project lead was appointed and regular monthly forums of a new working group – reporting into the JNCC – were held throughout 2013. Notes from these were circulated widely along with the latest version of the emerging proposals.

A number of critical partnership working principles were discussed and agreed:

  • commitment to honesty and sharing information, concerns and ideas
  • union representation on the working group was totally unrestricted – usually, staff side seat allocation on such groups was only as specified in the existing Partnership Agreement
  • regional union representatives were encouraged to attend to bring wider learning and perspectives from their organisations
  • clear terms of reference for voting established in the event that negotiations failed.

Trust HR Manager Liz Blount said: “Being aware that there was a real possibility we wouldn’t be able to reach a unanimous position, we discussed at a very early stage how we would proceed in this case. This included terms of reference for voting, both within staff side and a wider ballot.

“Fortunately, this was never needed, however, agreeing our strategy before a crisis point had been reached meant that we could develop a considered approach and gave a guarantee that we would be able to find a way out of the negotiations eventually.”

Since the agreement sign-off in September 2013, new terms and conditions have been implemented across the trust, with the majority of staff transfering by April 2014. Staff who were waiting on lower pay systems were pleased to start receiving higher rewards.

Other benefits include:

  • Many departments took the opportunity to review their out-of-hours service, and how this works for the benefit of patients, colleagues and staff.
  • In areas where the trust uncovered staff working onerous shift patterns, they are moving to more sustainable working patterns and being rewarded consistently
  • An expectation of a fairer sharing of out of hours work - in many areas this means more staff being involved, increasing the breadth of skills across the department and improving the robustness of the rota.

A longer-term benefit of this approach has been the impact on the trust’s partnership working. Staff side and management now feel very confident that they can work together through difficult issues and reach a collective resolution.

“The project has been recognised by directors as something that could have broken down relationships, but has actually built them up. We believe that the relationships and processes established during this project will give us a stronger base for the future,” Liz added. 

For more information please contact:

Liz Blount - elizabeth.blount@york.nhs.uk