Millennium payBMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7224.1585 (Published 11 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1585
Listening to the millennium prophets of doom, I am reminded of those Reader's Digest quizzes where you are given an impossible choice of answers.
Staff have reacted positively to getting the issue sorted out and rotas are now being filled relatively easily
The quiz goes something like this:
“You are a health service manager and next new year's eve electricity and water supplies will be interrupted, all emergency communication centres will crash, traffic will be in chaos, and ambulances suddenly immobilised. Many of your staff call in sick and all of those on call are sloshed. Your usual shortage of hospital beds has been exacerbated by unprecedented cutbacks in social services provision At long last you experience a winter not previously seen since 1963 and Asian flu sweeps the country. You have six months to prepare for the event—what do you do? (a) Apply for early retirement; (b) lie on the floor with your legs in the air impersonating John Cleese; (c) follow national advice and tell your staff how wonderful they are and that their dedication is not taken for granted, and that this will be demonstrated by the offer of a free meal in the staff canteen; or (d) draw up a fully comprehensive contingency plan.”
Striking a balance between the prophets of doom and those who predict new year's eve will be a damp squib is not easy
At my stage of life option (a) is tempting, except for the thought that the prophets of doom may have gone slightly over the top. Perhaps the riotous street celebrations will not materialise and outside Glasgow folk will show their normal hedonistic restraint—“Just a small dry sherry please, dear, otherwise I'll never stay awake until midnight.” I tried option (b) when I discovered that I had an 18 month waiting list breach, but colleagues thought that it was demeaning to the post of chief executive. Option (c) is the safe bet—keep your head down, follow the rest of the pack, and, if anything goes wrong, blame those above.
Completely out of character and for reasons which we do not quite understand we seem to have started on option (d).
Staff were getting restless that we had not met the promised deadline for letting them know whether or not they would be required to work on new year's eve. Staff could not be asked whether they were willing to volunteer to fill rota slots until we knew what enhanced pay, if any, was on offer. We didn't know what pay to offer until we had an indication of how short we might be on volunteers at normal Whitley rates. With his usual perceptiveness, my director of personnel summed up the position—“It's a question of the chicken and the egg and we don't have a chicken or an egg.”
Then, with an unprecedented rush of blood to the head, he presented the staff side with a pay offer which was readily accepted. For working an eight hour shift finishing after 10 30 pm on new year's eve, all staff would be paid £150 over and above their normal pay rates Those working an eight hour early shift on new year's day would receive £75. Those on call would receive a third of those sums.
The offer was simple and easily understood. It was fair in that it recompensed everybody, regardless of grade, on the same basis in recognition of the fact that they would not be able to see in the millennium with friends and family. It was also just about affordable For a £70m a year trust, the cost would be about £100 000 over and above normal new year's eve payments.
Staff have reacted positively to getting the issue sorted out and rotas are now being filled relatively easily. Colleagues in other trusts and health authorities have reacted more hesitantly. Understandably anxious about the precedent and the cost, they are nevertheless complimentary about the basis of the settlement and the fact that a benchmark settlement has been reached which is seen to be fair, without being cripplingly expensive.
Staffing levels have been set which recognise that next new year's eve will be busier than usual, but a risk has been taken that staffing up to major accident plan levels will not be necessary.
Striking a balance between the prophets of doom and those who predict new year's eve will be a damp squib is not easy. Deciding whether to keep costs down to a minimum or to strike a pay deal which would ease the inevitable staffing difficulties was a fine judgment Time will tell as to whether the judgment in Worthing was correct or whether early retirement would have been a better option.
If you would like to submit a personal view please send no more than 850 words to the Editor, BMJ, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JR or e-mail