Unions hope to defeat hospital staff transfers as Leeds NHS trust puts private company move on hold

NHS bosses are being urged to reassure hospital staff over their futures as a backlash grows to controversial plans to transfer thousands of workers into private companies.

Unions are hoping to defeat proposals by NHS trusts around the country to set up subsidiary companies to take over services.

In Leeds, cost-saving plans to transfer more than 2,000 hospital staff into a subsidiary have been shelved - despite £75m of savings needed at the city’s NHS trust.

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Leeds Teaching Hospitals has confirmed that it will not go ahead with the staff transfer, which sparked fierce opposition from unions, during the current financial year.

The move, which led to the threat of industrial action, would have seen estates, facilities, procurement and clinical engineering workers transferred to a firm set up by the trust itself.

Tony Pearson, Unison’s Regional Head of Health, said NHS staff needed reassurance over their futures after the plans were put on hold. He said: “We have campaigned very hard on this. People do not want to lose their NHS status.”

Simon Neville, Director of Strategy and Planning at the Leeds trust, said: “This decision was made following extensive engagement with our staff and we are now using this time to explore alternative models that will help us to meet the significant financial challenges we face.”

Leeds Teaching Hospitals has also revealed the scale of the scale of the financial challenge it faces to balance the books during 2018-19.

Multi-million pound savings are needed, despite the organisation ending 2017-18 with an £18.9m surplus.

Mr Neville said: “Like many other Trusts across the NHS, we are working very hard to achieve financial sustainability. We need to make £75m worth of savings this financial year so if we are able to find ways of generating income this reduces the pressure to find efficiencies that are increasingly difficult to identify.”

In March, the Leeds trust was urged to re-think the staffing proposals in a strongly-worded letter from five MPs. Alex Sobel, Richard Burgon, Fabian Hamilton, Hilary Benn and Rachel Reeves warned of a “sleepwalk” towards US-style privatisation if the plan went ahead. NHS bosses have pointed out the existing health service staff would retain their current terms and conditions if they are transferred to subsidiary companies.

But unions have raised fears of a “two-tier” workforce if newly recruited staff are employed on different contracts.

At Wakefield-based Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, Unison balloted its members for strike action over similar proposals to those in Leeds.

The action has been suspended while talks are held to resolve the dispute at Mid Yorkshire.

Union officials are due to meet with trust bosses and could go ahead with strike action if the plan is not withdrawn. In York, unions are planning demonstration tomorrow against subsidiary company plans.

It will be held as the board of York Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust meets to discuss the proposals.

Unison area organiser Sarah Keig said: “We want the trust to listen to their own staff and reject the wholly owned subsidiary company which NHS staff, and the public they serve, do not want to be implemented.”

In Lancashire, plans to transfer 900 staff at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust into a private company were ditched after strike action was held.