Hundreds of vital workers at our hospitals could have their NHS contracts torn up, unions have claimed.
Hospital bosses are proposing to transfer about 380 staff working as cleaners, gardeners, porters and maintenance workers at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and Calderdale Royal Hospital off their books.
They have revealed a plan to set up a limited company that will run estates and facilities management services for their sites.
Trade unions have described the move as ”privatisation” and a “tax dodge” and have also claimed the companies could be sold on, losing the staff their NHS pensions, terms and conditions in the process.
While existing workers transferred over will retain their pay and conditions unless the firm is sold, any new staff could be employed with inferior terms, creating a two-tier workforce.
Shadow health spokesman John Grogan MP has described a similar plan for Airedale Hospital in Keighley as a “VAT scam”.
A member of staff at the infirmary told the Examiner that the hundreds of workers affected had been called into a meeting earlier today (Thursday) by Lesley Hill, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust’s (CHFT) director of estates and facilities.
The source said they had been told a consultation would begin in January with staff set to be transferred to the new firm in June.
They said: “I’m absolutely disgusted. We’re worried about our jobs, our pensions and all the other changes that will come with it.
“They’re not saying a lot about what the point of it is.
“We asked questions and they said they couldn’t answer them yet or that the information was private.
“It’s all behind closed doors, it’s very hush hush. A lot of people are fuming about it.”
Natalie Ratcliffe, a Yorkshire health organiser for Unison, said all four acute hospital trusts in West Yorkshire were plotting the same move.
“We’re totally opposed to it because it’s privatisation,” she said.
“They are claiming they’re doing it for tax reasons but they’re also making savings as they won’t have to use NHS suppliers to buy toilet rolls and cleaning products.
“As yet no detailed business plan has been released for consultation staff or the public but Unison says any new company would only be able to generate profits by cutting the pay and pensions of their staff.
“There is deep concern about how it would affect the job security of staff and damage the ability to recruit and retain staff, all of which will have a highly damaging effect on patient care.
“The public and the people who run the service have every right to see the full details of this proposal and judge for themselves why it is really being promoted by the trust.”
The infirmary has already privatised its laundry and catering services without any industrial action from the unions but Mrs Ratcliffe said that was unlikely this time.
She said hundreds of union members across West Yorkshire would be affected and an indicative ballot of members at Bradford Teaching Hospital was already underway.
Directors at CHFT met to discuss the matter on Thursday.
Their board papers confirm they are developing a full business case to “look at options for the creation of ‘wholly owned subsidiaries’ (limited companies owned by the NHS)”.
In a statement for the Examiner Lesley Hill said: “The proposed new service model is not about privatisation - it will be wholly owned by CHFT.
“Current estates colleagues will continue to make a valuable contribution to the quality of care and experience we provide for our patients and will do so on their existing terms and conditions.
“The flexibility of the model provides colleagues with the opportunity to help the trust generate income from new sources which can then be reinvested into the care we provide.
“We will continue to work constructively with estates staff and trade union colleagues.”