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The Bradford NHS Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has delayed setting up its FM company after strikes by workers.
© Alamy
© Alamy

07 October 2019 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has delayed setting up a wholly owned subsidiary company (WOS) for its estates, facilities and clinical engineering services after a series of strikes by workers. 

The decision came after more than 300 porters, domestics, security and catering staff at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals Trust went on strike for two weeks in August in opposition to plans to outsource their jobs. 

According to trade union Unison, “these companies don’t have to honour NHS contracts and are free to pay employees less than NHS staff doing the same jobs, creating a damaging two-tier system that’s no good for staff or patients”. 

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Staff are taking this action to ensure the NHS keeps its highly motivated and committed workforce together, working for the people of Bradford, not for the directors of a private company.”

Workers say pay and pensions would suffer as part of a drive to cut costs if roles are transferred to a wholly owned subsidiary company being set up by the trust.

But in September, Unison’s regional organiser, Natalie Ratcliffe and John Holden, acting chief executive of the trust, said in a joint statement: “Following constructive talks facilitated by ACAS … Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Unison have agreed to suspend the indefinite industrial action that [was] due to commence on 26 August 2019, subject to specific legal agreement on this point.

“The trust has agreed not to proceed with a 1 October transfer date. The board of directors will meet on 12 September. Unison has been offered the opportunity to present its case to allow the board to further reflect on the position previously taken. The outcome of this further consideration will be notified to Unison by the end of September 2019.

“Should the board continue with its plans to form Bradford Healthcare Facilities Management Ltd (BHFML), it has been agreed that the earliest transfer date will now be 15 February 2020.”

In July, the trust had stated that the new company would operate from 1 October. In a statement at that time, the trust said that it “must take all steps to protect frontline services and provide safe and effective patient care”.

It added: “If we do nothing, and as we make year-on-year efficiencies, it will be increasingly difficult for our support services to continue as they are now, which will likely impact directly on patient care. Rather than wait for the inevitable contraction and decline, we want to use our scale and expertise to build up the business and win additional work to reinforce the core NHS support service.

“As BHFML grows, and makes an increasing profit, the level of reinvestment will also increase, which will further improve its operational and financial strength and help ensure sustainability for these services.

“BHFML will be able to seek new business opportunities on a level playing field with other commercial companies, as its tax arrangements will be the same. Cash released from tax efficiencies will allow us to reinvest in patient care, the hospital estate and BHFML staff development.”

Every year the trust has to deliver efficiency savings – about 4 per cent of turnover (roughly £16 million) in the current year.

Also in July, trade union members in estates and facilities at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust took industrial action over the establishment of the company, calling it “backdoor privatisation”. 

Emma Potter