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AfC: a level playing field or a slippery slope

Debby Rossiter reports on her research into the effect of the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay banding process on SLTs working in English trusts

n view of the successful 2000 regrading process, the profession was concerned the new AfC pay bands would have a detrimental effect on pay and conditions. This concern increased with the publication of the first set of speech and language therapy profiles that lacked clinical progression beyond Band 7. I

The RCSLT and Amicus worked successfully with the Department of Health to increase the range of profiles. The RCSLT also agreed to establish a database to monitor AfC results.

We received results from 85 English trusts, although some are incomplete. Of the 85 trusts, 31 are within London, 19 from the south of England and 35 from the midlands and north. Posts were based on a head count and the data represents 2,536 full- or part-time posts.

Assistants There is a wide range of results under the new bandings. Senior assistants and co-workers on technical instructor (TI) grades were generally matched to higher grades, but a range from Band 2-4 represents a pay differential of up to £5,000 for previously similarly graded posts. As a result 9% are on protection and 10% are appealing.

Newly-qualified SLTs Nearly 87% of posts suitable for newly- qualified therapists (NQTs) were matched, as expected, to Band 5. The other 13% were matched to Band 6. Starting salaries for NQTs have improved; no therapists are on protection and only a few posts are being appealed.

From this point on results become very mixed, with posts previously graded from spine point (sp) 23-30 being matched anywhere from Bands 5-7. Only 2% of post-holders are on pay protection, while 7% are appealing.

Further up the spine This variability continues up the spine. Old

senior Band 2 posts, sp 31-35, and Band 3 posts, sp 36-38, extend the range further with matching from Band 6-8B. Although 7% are on protection, 18% are appealing.

Senior posts The most senior clinical expert and managerial posts, previously graded at 37-41 and Bands 4/5, extend the range still further. One post, previously deemed worthy of a 37-41 grading, has been matched at Band 6, while old Band 4 posts have come out at Bands 7-8C, with a stunning potential pay differential of £25,000. At this level, post holders on protection increase significantly to 28%, and 31% are appealing.

“Has AfC been the major disaster originally predicted?”

Even with the differences present pre- and post-AfC, the overall evidence is for a significant reduction in SLTs pay at the upper end of the spine. Pre-AfC bandings divide between 74% at Bands 1 and 2 and 26% at 3 and 4. Post AfC, 79% of posts are at Bands 5-7 and 21% at 8A-9.

Data analysis shows the breadth of speech and language therapy services, and how differently they may be organised. Combined with the degree of variability, this makes it difficult to identify clear trends. Large combined trusts, particularly in London, have a greater percentage of posts Banded at 8C-9. Acute trusts have more clinical specialist/consultant posts matched within Bands 8A-D. Smaller adult or paediatric services have suffered, with some managerial posts moving from Band 4 or capped Band 4, to 8A.

The London effect The one major exception to this is the ‘London effect’. A comparison of the pre-AfC pay spine, shows that in general, London trusts did better in the 2000 regrading. AfC results have compounded this inequality. Compression down the spine has been far more marked outside London; 40% of posts outside London now lie within Band 7.

One reason for the breadth of results has been the variability of the matching process. Some trusts insisted job descriptions were unrevised, while others accepted redrafting related to AfC dimensions. Managers and staff were encouraged to provide information to varying degrees and this information seems to have been weighted differently by different matching panels.

The ‘level playing field’ promised under AfC has developed a distinct slope and may for a while prove very difficult to play on. Has AfC been the major disaster originally predicted? The wider picture suggests not entirely, with some trusts and groups of staff moving to an improved position and others maintaining their status quo.

Keep sending in your data A clearer national picture will emerge when the process is completed in the devolved countries. It is therefore important, that services continue to provide the RCSLT with information and, for those who have already sent in data, the follow-up results of appeals. Email: jo.offen@rclst.org

Debby Rossiter - speech and language therapy manager, King’s College Hospital Email: debby.rossiter@kingsch.nhs.uk

Read the full version of this article at: www.rcslt.org/news/afc_rossiter_feb2006

bulletin April 2006


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