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There is a feeling amongst several of the privately run agencies that they have been unfairly excluded when their workers have sacrificed their health and the health of those close to them during the pandemic.
As a result a campaign was launched in January 2021 to ensure that all care staff are included in the £500 “Thank You” that was announced by Nicola Sturgeon in November 2020.
But the government has since responded and have doubled down stating that ‘agency staff’ will not be eligible for the payment.
In response to the campaign, a letter from the government to Scottish nursing agencies was sent, which the Evening News has now obtained.
It reads: “Scottish Ministers are hugely grateful for the efforts over recent months of the many key workers, including private agency staff, for their undoubtedly vital support to the NHS and the people of Scotland.
“The recognition payment relates to staff covered by NHS payment and remuneration arrangements and staff in organisations registered with the Scottish Social Services Council, and it is not extended to private agency staff in the NHS. For people working for private employers, it would be for their employer to determine their remuneration and any additions to existing pay which may be appropriate for these staff.
“If any member of agency staff wishes to receive the same terms and conditions as NHS staff, they are free to apply for and take up an NHS post at NHS rates of pay.”
The response has angered Joanne Sullivan, the director of trust-care staffing, an independent nursing agency.
She feels as though the government is being inconsistent with the rules relating to eligibility and that her staff as well as the staff of other nursing agencies across the country fit certain criteria laid out.
Joanne said: “Agency staff support the entire Health and Social Care sector, not just the NHS. This includes all classes of vulnerable adults and children that would otherwise need NHS support which would bring the NHS to its knees overnight.
“All care staff must register with the SSSC and must pay a fee to register and pay for training. The response from the government is simply incorrect and dismissive. Agency staff are held to exactly the same standards as anyone else. All Registered Nursing Agencies are also registered with the SSSC. We are no different.
“Why should a small company like ours with members of staff on the front line have to come up with £500 payments? We help fund the NHS just like anyone else via taxation or charitable donation. It is not realistic that we are able to afford such a payment.
“It is discriminatory that the NHS has said to our staff that if they want the same terms and conditions to apply for a role with the NHS, people should be able to choose to work for whomever they wish without penalty
“This is also misleading as if they were to apply after this was announced November 30 2020 they would not be eligible for the £500 and other care suppliers can qualify even though they are not NHS. But it seems there is little knowledge about the sector outside of NHS within the government.
“This must be rectified as our workers have risked just as much as everyone else and delivered at times of shortage, often covering NHS staff in the process. Nursing agency staff deserve better.”
Joanne collected dozens of statements from staff members to see how they felt with regards to being refused the payment - with some workers noticeably impacted by the refusal to recognise their contribution.
Lindsey, who works as a support worker for the agency, said: “Before the pandemic I felt that care workers were totally undervalued by society. During the lockdown it felt like we were finally being seen for the work we do, but being told we're not eligible for the ‘Thank You’ gesture kind of undid that.”
Kyla, who is also a support worker, said: “Everyone on our team feels the same way, none of us do this type of work to be rewarded financially, as the gratitude that we get from the people we care for is all we need.
“But I am against the principal of the situation, as we have cared for the vulnerable though our support and care work and I think our efforts should be noticed. Not only for ourselves but for the people we care for.
“The service we provide is a vital one as a lot of vulnerable people may not have had care through this pandemic without us agency staff . I feel it is extremely unfair to reward the rest of the care industry with the ‘Thank You’ payment but ignore some of us who have been on the front line of the pandemic. We should all be treated the same, regardless of what status we hold in the health and care sector.”
There is a feeling amongst agency staff that if receptionists for private dental practices receive the payment then so should they.
The government was contacted for comment and invited to elaborate on the response they gave in their letter but were unable to do. Instead they redirected us to government advice around eligibility for the payment.