NHS in Leicestershire accused of ‘back door privatisation’ to set up spin-off company

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Campaigners have accused University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) of “back door privatisation” after it has announced plans for a spin-off company to employ staff working in areas such as cleaning and maintenance.

UHL will create a subsidiary company, owned by the hospital NHS Trust, in a bid to save money and reduce deficits.

It says the move will see around £5million invested in the trust’s cleaning and maintenance services and will mean that the appearance of the trust’s buildings will also be improved.

But Campaign Against NHS Privatisation Leicestershire (CANP) and the Leicester Mercury Patients’ Panel have raised concerns about the plans to set up a Facilities Management Partnership (FMP) and say that up to 1,700 staff out of the 15,000 that work for Leicester’s Hospitals could be affected by the move.

CANP spokesperson Bob Ball claimed: “This outsourcing by stealth throws up huge concerns, given the danger of creating a two tier workforce. Although the trust say they will employ new staff on exactly the same terms and conditions, it is not yet clear whether these workers will be properly protected in the long-term.

“Historically privatised public service, over time – staff terms and conditions erode in a push to make profit and or make savings.”

Leicester Mercury Patients’ Panel chair  Dr Sally Ruane said: “The relevant board paper gives very little detail regarding the financial case for the move and raises questions regarding longer term protections for the workers involved, many of whom have experienced repeated changes of employer leading to demoralisation.”

The board paper that outlines the proposals says that the partnership “will be wholly NHS-owned” and will offer an improvement in pay, terms and conditions for many of Leicester’s Hospitals’ lowest paid staff.

Mr Ball claimed: “There are a lot of unanswered questions over the set-up of this proposed NHS-owned partnership, particularly in regard to accountability and the long-term plans for the new company.

“UHL have made very little information available in their board paper but where, for example, is the financial case for this change? And where is the detail on governance arrangements.

“Also there is a lack of clarity regarding whether the trade unions involved are supporting the plans.

“Unfortunately, this is yet another example of privatisation involving staff who have been pushed from pillar to post in the past.”

Chairman of the trust, Karamjit Singh CBE, announced on Thursday following a Trust board meeting that the proposal will now move into its engagement phase before planned implementation on  October 1, this year.

He said: “This decision marks a significant step on the road to improving patient services provided by our estates, facilities, procurement and supplies teams, and it was the subject of detailed discussions by the board.

“We want to be sure that this new structure will achieve our aims of improving the appearance and fabric of our hospitals, whilst also improving the wages of some of the lowest paid staff.

“Having examined all the options at length, our view is that creating this partnership will give us the financial freedom to invest in improvement whilst maintaining NHS-control of the service.

“Everything we do must contribute to better patient outcomes and improved facilities play an important part in that.”

During their discussions this morning (Thursday) the trust board made a formal commitment to honour the national NHS pay increases announced by the government this week, assuming that the pay rises are confirmed following the national consultation.