A HEALTH trust that gave its chief executive a pay rise while other staff salaries were frozen has axed Christmas party funds for hundreds of nurses.

About 717 staff working at community hospitals across Oxfordshire had previously been offered a donation of up to £35 each towards a Christmas party as a thank-you.

But this year the money has been taken away for the first time.

The news comes after the Oxford Mail revealed Julie Waldron, the former chief executive of the trust who was responsible for overseeing the cuts and was in charge when the decision was made to cut the Christmas payments, saw her salary band increased from £160,000-£165,000 to £165,000- £170,000.

She was this month replaced by Stuart Bell. His salary band was not available last night.

Community Health Oxfordshire, which runs community hospitals and outreach services, and the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Trust (OBMH) merged last year.

The new joint trust is called the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

It has outlined £52m of cuts over the next five years from all of its services – including staffing costs – and workers are on an NHS-wide pay freeze.

It is also currently consulting with nurses on bringing in a new longer shift of 12 hours to ‘increase efficiency’.

A spokesman for the new organisation said the decision to scrap the Christmas party payments was approved by their charitable funds committee in April and would come into force this Christmas.

She said: “When Oxford Health NHS FT and Community Health Oxfordshire integrated, work took place to ensure policies and guidelines were rationalised to ensure a consistent approach to charitable funds spending across the trust.

“In order for donated funds to retain their charitable status any expenditure must, whether directly or indirectly, provide patient benefit.

“The Charitable Funds Committee considers that expenditure on staff Christmas parties or other staff social events or entertaining does not normally provide sufficient patient benefit and is not the most efficient or effective way of applying available funds to provide patient benefit.

“Given the limited funds available to Oxford Health Charitable Funds, the decision has been taken that no expenditure of this kind may be funded.”

Previously, staff at the OBMH have received a token gift such as a box of chocolates for Christmas, but a decision on whether this will continue has not yet been taken.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was a “kick in the teeth” for nursing staff.

Patricia Marquis, South East regional director of the RCN, said: “This could be the final nail in the coffin. Nurses are telling us how demoralised they are.

“It has been one change after another, one consultation after another.

“Something as small as losing their Christmas donation for staff functions can have a real knock-on effect to team morale.

“To hear that the frontline workforce are having to make these sacrifices at a time of a national pay freeze and changes to pensions whilst managers get this pay rise is a real kick in the teeth for nurses and, quite frankly, a grossly insensitive move by the directors.”

Ian Mckendrick, spokesman for the Oxfordshire Unison union’s health branch, and an Oxford Health nurse, said: “To think that such a small token of appreciation at Christmas doesn’t get immeasurable rewards for patients in terms of having staff with good morale looking after them shows no understanding of what makes the NHS tick.

“Scrooge could learn a thing or two from these people.

“Perhaps the local NHS bosses could make up the shortfall from their incredible pay rises.”

The row comes as chief executive of Oxford University Hospitals Trust Sir Jonathan Michael – who saw his pay bracket go up from £210,000-£215,000 to £215,000-£220,000 last year – declined to discuss the issue.

Repeated requests by the Oxford Mail for an interview, asking why he accepted the rise at a time when other staff were on pay freezes and the trust was facing multi-million-pound cuts, have been refused.