Fuel costs driving health care staff out of caring roles

Northumbria’s mileage policy is having a direct impact on staff retention, as  the cost of patient care is coming directly out of the pockets of staff who use their cars for work.

One outraged member of staff said: “As community staff leave, recruiting is going to prove difficult, resulting in lower staffing levels and ultimately impacting on patient care”.

Unable to absorb this financial hit, staff decided they weren’t prepared to accept substandard terms and conditions anymore and arranged a planning meeting to discuss how to persuade their employer to improve its mileage offer. RCN members and other staff affected by the issues all came together to make a stand against the trust’s mileage rate policy, meeting on 13 June with support from RCN Organiser Lily Coombs-Berry.

229 staff have since sent a letter to the trust’s Chief Executive Sir Jim Mackey and its Executive Director of Finance Paul Dunn, demanding parity with neighbouring trust Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which pays 61p per mile. 

Sarah Dodsworth, Regional Director, RCN Northern Region, said: “Nursing staff are frustrated, angry, and skint. It's unacceptable that cash-strapped employees have to pay to provide an NHS service. This can easily be resolved by the trust agreeing to pay the recommended NHS rate... Indeed, staff are asking for better than the national rate, which has not seen an increase for 12 years."

Employees of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust working in the community or driving between sites using their cars to reach patients are paid 24 pence less than the nationally recommended NHS rate, and 29p less than neighbouring trust Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. 

All staff who use their cars to reach patients have been detrimentally affected by recent hikes in petrol prices. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, some hardworking nursing staff will be unable to sustain the loss to their income.  

Sarah Dodsworth called the amount Northumbria reimburses its staff for driving “paltry”. 

Staff who have lease cars are paid a slightly higher rate; however, this rate drops dramatically to 17p a mile after 4000 miles. The trust lease car scheme affects staff pensions and its salary sacrifice impact takes lower-paid workers under the minimum wage, making it an unviable choice for many.  

Last month, the Royal College of Nursing called for an urgent and early review of NHS mileage rates to deal with recent dramatic increases in fuel costs. As it stands, nationally recommended mileage reimbursement rates for work-related car travel are 56p per mile for the first 3,500 miles then 20p for each additional mile.

RCN activists, members and other staff are continuing to campaign for improved mileage rates and attempting to negotiate with the trust to gain a satisfactory solution.

by Wendy
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