Labour’s Shadow health spokesperson Lord Hunt has warned that a Yorkshire hospital trust risks being “privatised by the backdoor” as it looks at setting up a private company to run facilities, estates and purchasing at its hospital in Keighley.
Airedale NHS Trust’s board will meet in private today to consider the business case for forming the subsidiary company - which critics say will lead to lower wages and poor conditions for staff.
Lord Hunt has joined Keighley and Ilkley Labour MP John Grogan in calling on Trust chief executive Bridget Fletcher to halt the meeting and reconsider the plan, which he described as a “bit of a scam” to avoid paying VAT.
“Anything that an individual trust may gain on VAT is likely to be clawed back nationally and the allocation less to each trust in the future,” he said. “There’s no magic money tree that suddenly produces savings from the tax person. I understand that they are under great financial pressure but the real answer is that we have to fund the NHS properly.”
He raised concerns that once transferred to the company staff would no longer be classed as NHS employees. While they would retain terms and conditions and access to the NHS pension, any new staff taken on by the company would not.
“What they are trying to do is reduce the amount of money they pay for staff in future”, he said. “But more than that, what really concerns me is that it is a backdoor way to privatising part of the NHS. This is a very significant decision and doing it in the private part of their meeting is frankly unacceptable.”
Mr Grogan has urged the Trust to look at other cost-saving measures, such as reducing reliance on agency staff and bureaucracy.
Trade union Unison, along with Unite, GMB and the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Midwives, have launched a petition against the plan.
Area organiser Michael Parkinson said it would drive standards down for patients as staff “are driven away from service by wages they cannot survive on”.
A spokesperson for the Trust said around 250 to 300 employees would be affected by the move.
She said: “Establishing a separate company to run these services would enable them to work together more efficiently, run their own budgets, make their own decisions and bid for other contracts, while at the same time keeping them in the Airedale family, supporting our clinical services to provide high quality care for our patients.”