NHS staff working at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have opted to hold a strike ballot in response to the Trust's attempt to create a wholly owned subsidiary company. The Trust is seeking to transfer staff from its estates, facilities and engineering departments to the company.
Since 2010 the NHS has seen a proliferation of NHS Trusts creating wholly owned subsidiary companies. Trusts have sought to transfer staff from their non-clinical departments into the companies. Doing so allows Trusts to modify the existing terms and working conditions of staff, and to hire new staff under drastically different working conditions.
These conditions usually entail less pay, less holiday entitlement and more "flexible" working hours. New staff will also not be entitled to NHS pensions and other benefits. The rationale for the creation of these companies has partially resulted from Trusts seeking to make savings in the context of the financial crisis in the NHS - a crisis caused and mandated by the Coalition Government and successive Conservative Governments through subjecting the NHS to the longest spending squeeze in its 70-years of existence.
Unison, the trade union, has been a key player in holding NHS Trusts to account over this practice and is the union currently holding the strike ballot. Unison and the National Health Action Party have previously spoken out against the creation of these companies over their potential to create a two-tier workforce within the NHS, and in regard to their public accountability; as the other driving force behind their proliferation is their use by NHS Trusts to save money via VAT exemptions. Something which on the face of it this seems like a positive, insofar as it supposedly allows Trusts to save money which they claim is then reinvested into front-line services. However, their is no guarantee that this happens. Thereby leaving public money unaccounted for.
Dr Louise Irvine, Secretary to the NHAP, said the following in regard to the ballot: "It is vital that NHS Trusts do not seek to create a two-tier workforce within the NHS. Clinical and non-clinical staff work best when they work as part of a team. The creation of these companies exist in order to put certain members of staff on worse working conditions and terms than their counterparts - we must resist this. There is a real risk that if NHS England and NHS Improvement continue to condone the proliferation of such companies that at later date they could be used as not so discrete backdoor to further privatisation. In the context of NHS England's continued insistence on rolling out Accountable Care Organisations (now re-branded as Integrated Care Systems) this is a real possibility"