THOUSANDS of NHS staff are being transferred by their own trusts into outsourcing firms, risking ‘dozens of Carillion-style meltdowns’ the union Unite has warned. The Health Service Journal estimates that as many as 3,000 NHS non-medical staff at eight different trusts have already been transferred to subsidiaries in a bid to privatise services and break NHS pay and conditions.
These are mainly hospital cleaners, porters and maintenance staff who haven’t yet been outsourced and who are already among the NHS’s lowest-paid employees. As many as 8,000 more could follow, if further planned subsidiaries go ahead. Nineteen NHS trusts in England have already established a wholly owned subsidiary and begun transferring thousands of non-medical staff to them. Sixteen other trusts are considering doing the same.
Unions such as Unison and Unite rightly insist that the establishment of such companies amounts to NHS privatisation and will deprive more and more staff of the benefits enjoyed by those who are directly employed by hospital trusts. Sara Gorton, Unison’s Head of Health said: ‘Dozens of trusts up and down the country have established, or are planning to establish, wholly owned subsidiaries. It’s all too quickly becoming the new normal. ‘It’s important to remember that staff have chosen to work for, and be part of, the NHS. They want to belong to the NHS team, and not be seen as a disposable add-on.’
Wholly owned subsidiaries are not obliged to abide by Agenda For Change, the longstanding national pay system for most NHS staff across the UK. This makes subsidiary staff cheaper for trusts to employ. Unite has warned that the bodies ‘could create a Pandora’s box of dozens of Carillion-type meltdowns among NHS trusts in England.’
Meanwhile, a decision to reorganise Dorset NHS hospital services is to face a judicial review.
Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) agreed changes, including the closure of Poole’s Accident and Emergency department, (A&E), in October, and an attempt to get the decision reviewed by the government failed in December.
However, campaign group Defend Dorset NHS applied for a judicial review and has been granted a full hearing. A date for the hearing at London’s Administrative Court is yet to be set.
The County Council’s health scrutiny committee had said it had concerns about the loss of beds and services. However, in December the authority’s joint committee said the decision would not be referred to the health secretary.
Under the plans being implemented over the next four years, Poole Hospital will lose its A&E, maternity and paediatric services to Bournemouth, which will become the main emergency hospital. Poole will become a centre for planned treatment and operations. The CCG also agreed Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester should find ways to ‘share its paediatric and maternity departments’ with Yeovil District Hospital in Somerset. Changes to mental health acute care include the closure and relocation of beds at the Linden Unit in Weymouth and the creation of extra inpatient beds at St Ann’s Hospital in Poole and Forston Clinic, near Dorchester.
The latest NHS staff survey just released shows:
• Only 31.04% of staff ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that there are enough staff at their organisation for them to do their job properly, down from 31.2% in 2016. • Just 31% of staff were satisfied with their level of pay, down from 37% in 2016. • Staff are reporting lower satisfaction with the quality of work and care they are able to deliver.
• 38.4% of staff reported feeling unwell due to work related stress in the last 12 months (up from 37% in 2016). • 71.7% of staff reported working extra hours. • 58.3% of staff reported working unpaid hours. • 12.6% of staff experienced discrimination at work in the last 12 months: This is compared to 11.8% in 2016.
• 52.9% of staff attended work in the last three months despite feeling unwell because they felt pressure from their manager, colleagues or themselves, up from 51.9% in 2016. • 28.0% of staff experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients, relatives or the public in the last 12 months – This has risen slightly from 27.9% in 2016.
Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN, said: ‘These figures bear out the warnings from frontline nurses – patient care standards are heading in the wrong direction and nursing staff will not accept it. ‘But it also reveals the sharpest ever rise in dissatisfaction with pay, now standing at 45 per cent of the workforce – up by more than seven percentage points in a single year.
‘It is a timely reminder for the Chancellor that years of unfair pay deals have taken their toll and a meaningful rise is long overdue. ‘When two-thirds of NHS workers say they cannot do their job properly due to understaffing, Ministers and the NHS must listen. Safe and effective staffing levels are crucial – standards of patient care rise and fall along with the number of nurses on duty.
‘Patients can pay the highest price when levels fall too low – legislation is needed to ensure accountability. ‘More than half of NHS staff report working unpaid overtime every single week. Ministers must stop treating the goodwill and dedication of NHS staff as a replacement for adequate funding and proper workforce planning. Continuing down this path is unfair, and untenable.’
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “It’s clear that wage freezes, and woeful pay rises below the rate of inflation, have taken their toll on NHS staff. ‘If this isn’t addressed, the NHS is going to haemorrhage more staff. This not only puts further pressure on the remaining nurses, healthcare assistants and other NHS colleagues, but also ultimately affects patient care and safety.
‘Then there’s the continuing shame that over 80,000 people working in the NHS in England earn wages that are below the Living Wage. ‘The government has an opportunity to turn this situation around and fund a decent pay settlement for health staff this year.
‘It will also come as no surprise to the public to hear that NHS staff are regularly doing unpaid overtime. ‘It’s a disgrace that the government is relying on the good will of overworked staff to prop up the NHS.’
The Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton declared a critical incident yesterday (March 6th) because it is full. The hospital is trying to ‘discharge as many patients as possible’ so they can continue to admit emergencies. Meetings have been cancelled so staff can work on wards, extra clinicians have been dispatched to work in outpatients, and A&E staff brought in to assess patients.
South East Coast Ambulance Service said it couldn’t take patients to other hospitals because all nearby sites in Sussex are equally busy.
Staff cuts have led to the cancellation of all children’s operations at Boston Pilgrim Hospital in Lincolnshire. A spokesman for United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) said: ‘We don’t always have enough staff to support A&E, and provide emergency and non-urgent care on the children’s wards 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ‘We have reduced the number of inpatient paediatric beds so we can free up children’s nurses to support A&E staff to care for ill children who attend A&E.’