Royal Free Hospital workers told to pay back thousands in mistaken Covid overtime payments

'It's their fault they overpaid us'

Friday, 6th August 2021 — By Tom Foot

Royal Free Hospital_photo cc-by-sa-2.0 - © Julian Osley -

Royal Free Hospital

HOSPITAL workers face having to pay back thousands of pounds in overtime wrongly paid for shifts during the Covid pandemic.

Nightshift workers have received letters from Royal Free management apologising for the payroll “mistake” and saying an investigation is underway into the extent of the debt.

Many staff have been informed they have been receiving between £500-750 extra a month because of a series of “duplicate payments” for “unsociable hours”.

The payroll bungle has left around 12 staff with a debt of between £5,000-and £9,000 each and the Royal Free is now trying to claw it back.

“I’m in shock,” said one night worker this week.

“They are focusing on the people affected rather than sorting out the people who caused the issue. It’s a really big thing, there should be resignations. It’s their fault they overpaid us.”

The chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital, Kate Slemeck, has recently left for a top job at University Hospitals Sussex.

The workers said they had not realised the extra payments had been made as nightshift patterns varied from month to month.

Another source said: “It’s like they’re in a stage now where they’re s****ing themselves and trying to claw the money back, trying to gauge if we are willing to pay back. But if we all act strong and defiant, I think they’ll end up backing down and writing the debt off.”

Some health workers said having the weight of a large debt hanging over them following the pandemic could send many off sick or to quit the NHS.

The hospital is already struggling with “retention” of staff following the gruelling struggle against Covid. “If everyone just quits then it causes problems because they won’t have anyone with experience there,” said another Royal Free worker.

Questions have been raised about the union’s role at the hospital with many staff feeling they are not properly represented.

But Jim Mansfield, Hampstead Health branch secretary of Unison, said: “I am already in discussions with management about this. At the moment the letter just states that the overpayment is being stopped.

“The Trust and payroll are working out what is owed and at the moment no decisions have been made about paying anything back, although some of the figures are likely to be high and have been going on for a long period of time.

“Obviously, Unison will be supporting any of our members affected by this error.”

It is the second time this year that the Trust’s private payroll system – outsourced to a private company – has come under the spotlight. The Free was the first hospital in the country to introduce a payroll app called Earnd after top-level lobbying by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

The app – devised by finance company Greensill – would help improve the wellbeing of the NHS workforce, claimed Cameron. Greensill was cited in a lobbying scandal involving the Conservative government.

Staff were speculating this week that an in-house payroll system would not have been able to make the most recent overtime mistakes, made over such a long time.

In its letter to staff this week, the Free’s facilities director Jeremy Sharp said: “We recognise where there has been an overpayment. This will be an understandable concern to you and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to you for this. “The trust is currently working with SBS our urgent payroll provider to calculate the total value of your overpayments. Whilst the trust will not recover any previous overpayments until it has further information.”

A Royal Free statement added: “We would like to apologise to the 12 members of staff who incorrectly received double pay for working unsocial hours when we changed our payroll system. We are hugely grateful to all of our staff for their commitment to the trust and our patients and will support the staff in question to develop an affordable repayment plan.”

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