|Unite members working for East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust are today on strike as bosses defy a top national NHS body by forging ahead with plans proposals to transfer estates and maintenance staff to subcos.
NHS Improvement last week ordered trusts to “pause” the roll-out of the controversial subcos, but bosses at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and East Kent are pressing ahead anyway.
Unions oppose subcos because they take NHS staff out of the NHS and see them employed by private companies in a move unions fear will lead to worse pay and conditions, as well as a deterioration of service.
More than 50 estates’ members at East Kent are on strike from today until Friday night, with 200 estates and maintenance members at York joining them on on Thursday for three days.
Unite said NHS Improvement, the body which oversees trusts, needed to exert its authority, otherwise it risked being viewed as ‘a toothless tiger unable to stand up to hardline trust bosses’.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “These acts of defiance by these two trusts seriously undermine the credibility of NHS Improvement and, ultimately, do not reflect well on the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock who needs to get a grip of the situation.
“NHS Improvement will be seen as a toothless tiger if trusts treat its directives with contempt, as appears to be the case at East Kent and York.”
Unite lead officer for health in Yorkshire Chris Daly said: “I can confirm that the trust has told me that it is going ahead with this subsidiary – York Teaching Hospital Facilities Management LLP – which has been set up with the purpose to avoid tax.
“This is an act of arrogance considering the direction given by NHS Improvement this week that a pause needs to be instituted in setting up such subsidiaries, while a review takes place in October. This is a snub to NHS Improvement with its influential national remit.
“The trust has been without a permanent chief executive since May and this may explain some of the poor decision making currently taking place. There is still time for the trust to row back from its ill-considered proposal to transfer staff out of the NHS ‘family’.”
Unite regional officer for the Kent trust Michael Cott said: “Thursday’s talks with the East Kent trust management ended with the trust saying it was still going ahead with the transfer to the subsidiary – 2together Support Solutions – from 1 October, despite being made aware of NHS Improvement’s ‘pause’ edict.
“This is very disappointing and flies in the face of the sensible advice from NHS Improvement.”
The industrial action will affect Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury; Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital, Margate; and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
Unite is concerned that trusts are forming these wholly owned subsidiary companies in England so that they can register for VAT exemption and compete on a level playing field with commercial competitors who register for VAT exemption for their work in the NHS, when NHS trusts can’t.
Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust has become the latest trust in a growing number that has decided to abandon plans to set up such a subsidiary.