NHS England has apologised to staff for its ‘unsettling’ voluntary redundancy scheme, which has been hit by ‘several delays and payroll errors’, resulting in incorrect exit package offers and leaving dates pushed back at short notice.
In an email sent last week to staff who have applied for voluntary redundancy, NHSE’s chief delivery officer said he was “extremely sorry” leaving dates had been delayed because of the errors, although he stressed “many colleagues are not impacted by these problems”.
Applications for the scheme closed in February and, while applicants have been told if they have been accepted, many are still in the dark about their exit package and their leaving date.
Steve Russell, who is also director for vaccines and screening, wrote: “I appreciate that this will be extremely unsettling. We will adjust leaving dates to ensure that colleagues have sufficient time to receive their settlement agreement and estimates, including pension estimates, and to get the appropriate independent legal and finance advice.”
“I also know that people will have planned their wider life around an expected leaving date, and where people wish to maintain that leaving date, we will work with them and their line manager to agree how to support this,” Mr Russell said in the email, leaked to HSJ.
The redundancy scheme was launched in January as part of NHSE’s ongoing restructure, in which it is merging with NHS Digital and Health Education England, and removing 30-40 per cent of their combined posts. NHSE has said the changes will save £400m annually, and “reduce duplication and bureaucracy, giving [local organisations] more control”.
The redundancy scheme was expected to lead to around 1,000 departures, at a total cost of up to £100m. Staff have told HSJ that around 1,700 people applied for the scheme and about 1,300 were accepted. However, NHSE has not so far answered HSJ’s questions about the numbers, nor how many people it currently expects to leave under the VR scheme.
NHSE staff, who wished to remain anonymous, described the VR scheme as “chaos” and an “utter debacle”. They told HSJ they were concerned they would be left with very little time to seek legal and pension advice before deciding whether to accept final offers; and little time to revise their career plans.
Mr Russell, who took over the chief delivery officer role from Mark Cubbon last month, said staff who had a planned leaving date of 14 April would be prioritised for decisions, and asked other applicants to “bear with us”. It is now known how many are in this position. Some will not now leave until at least May.
It is understood departures of staff with exit packages of more than £100,000 have been particularly affected by delays, because they are awaiting Treasury approval. Others, mostly for former NHS Digital staff, have been delayed due to errors calculating their packages, which is being carried out by NHS Shared Business Services.
Mr Russell’s email also reveals NHSE has submitted a business case to government to run a further redundancy scheme later this year, but it is waiting for approval from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Treasury. There are concerns that government decisions will be held up by Easter and the May local elections.
The email added: “We will look at the issues that have arisen to make changes in any future scheme so that they do not reoccur. I appreciate this will not be of comfort to those who have already been impacted and I would reiterate my apology for that.”
NHSE has not answered HSJ’s questions about when it would like the next VR phase to begin, how many people it could accommodate, and whether it would be covered by the £100m previously signed off by the government, or if further funding was required.
The first waves of the restructure plan, covering national workforce and transformation directorates, are now well under way, and the rest of the organisation – accounting for nearly 20,000 whole time equivalent staff – is due to go through the process in the next few months. NHSE said in February that all staff should know their future by September, but has not said this week whether this is still the case.
NHSE was asked if it wanted to comment on the issue.