The Government has stated that it will modify the current system for unsocial hours payments to NHS staff, claiming it is “out of date” and creates a “potential barrier” to providing affordable care at the weekends and in evenings.

The move is among options being considered to bring about a reduction in night and weekend pay which the NHS pay review body has stated costs £1.8bn a year (unsocial hours and shift work, not including overtime).

Six options have been put forward. These include eliminating the payments altogether, although an additional 10% of salary would be paid for night shifts falling between 8pm and 6am. Lowering unsocial pay rates for Sundays and bank holidays is also being considered.

Another suggestion is to retain the payment, but give all staff the same rate. Currently unsocial hours pay is calculated based on a workers’ salary band. Another is the removal of Saturday as an eligible day for unsocial hour payments and pushing back the time from which this money can be claimed during a night shift – from 8pm to 10pm.

The Government insists consultants should be available as needed and pay should reflect that some consultants will have to do more unsocial hours.

NHS unions have indicated their dissatisfaction to the suggestions.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said: “For four years the government has either frozen or held NHS pay down, forcing staff to rely on the extra cash they get from working unsocial hours simply to get by. By raising the prospect of further cuts, the government will simply worsen what is already a big problem for the NHS – how to recruit and hold on to enough skilled healthcare staff to provide the services we all rely on. If these extra payments are cut, not only would staff suffer directly but it would also be difficult for the NHS to get cover for evenings and weekends”.