Anger over number of "zero hour" contracts at region's hospitals

First published in News

SOME of the region’s hospitals are under fire after thousands of staff were placed on controversial “zero-hours” contracts – with no guarantee of pay.

An investigation by Labour found at least 2,503 workers are now on the contracts, some of the 67,000 used across the NHS in England.

At York Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs hospitals across North Yorkshire, the number has soared to 1,069 – from just 166 three years ago.

Both North Tees and Hartlepool (786 staff) and South Tees Hospitals (312) trusts also revealed widespread use of the contracts, although those numbers are falling.

Total use across the North-East and North Yorkshire is likely to be higher, because three hospital trusts did not respond to freedom of information requests.

However, the pattern is patchy, because both County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals and South Tyneside trusts reported they had no zero-hours contracts.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s health spokesman, described any increase as “worrying”, warning that standards of care could be at risk.

Zero-hours contracts offer no guarantee of any work, only provide pay for any hours that are worked and set out no specified working patterns, Labour said.

And Alex Cunningham, the Stockton North MP, described the situation at his local North Tees trust as a “scandal”.

Mr Cunningham said 682 of the 786 zero-hours contracts at North Tees were for “clinical positions”, adding: “Some may say the employers cannot be blamed, but I do not care who is blamed “No one should have to suffer the indignity of a contract under which it is possible for no work at all to be provided.

“I acknowledge that some of those contracts may cover people with other roles, elsewhere and within the Trust, but I still think it is a scandal.”

The Northern Echo attempted to ask the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust about its practices, but there was no response to its inquiries.

There is growing concern about the increased use of zero-hours contracts, also held by 300,000 social workers.

They are popular in the retail, catering and health sectors, where having staff on permanent stand-by is particularly useful.

But critics argue they are being denied basic employment rights, allowing their bosses to impose low wages and punish staff by reducing rotas.

This week, a report for David Cameron on healthcare assistants, by journalist Camilla Cavendish, warned about the impact on the quality of care.

Mr Burnham said: “It is the result of a crude and mismanaged efficiency drive, where standards of care will be sacrificed for savings that will, in time, prove to be a false economy.

“Good care cannot be provided on a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ basis. Services and staff need to be there for people day in, day out.”

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