Privatisation of Administrative & Clerical Services – England

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2007 Health Care Service Group Conference
18 April 2007

Conference is encouraged by the events of this past year, where UNISON has given its support to the NHS Logistics strike in September 2006, the NHS Together Lobby in November 2006 and also the Outsourcing Conference in December 2006.

Conference congratulates the members from NHS Logistics for their show of solidarity during the month of September 2006 when they had a national strike in protest at being transferred to DHL as part of this Labour government’s continued use of the private sector in the NHS. Unfortunately, this dedicated team are now having to work under DHL as NHS Supply chain and from the beginning have experienced problems with payroll, despite reassurances from DHL that their payroll providers (Accenture) were robust enough to cope with the transfer, examples being sick pay; shift allowances not being paid; and where overpayments were made, attempting to have the full amounts taken from the next month’s pay.

Conference affirms its UK-wide policy of campaigning and organising to keep services in-house or bring them back in-house where privatised or outsourced and welcomes the successes seen in Scotland and Wales. However even these victories come at a membership cost with secretarial ‘pools’ and a lower skills baseline de-skilling the roles and reducing costs accordingly.

It also notes with concern that NHS Trusts through the continuing use of the private sector and outsourcing, both abroad and in England, are now losing valuable admin and clerical services and skills. These essential administrative services required in any efficient organisation were carried out by highly skilled and dedicated admin staff and allowed clinical staff to concentrate on doing their designated ‘frontline’ jobs but are now in many cases an ‘add on’ role to a clinician’s work which therefore poses a compromise to patient care.

This conference notes that the continuing outsourcing of staff to the private sector has caused ongoing problems for our members both in terms of their employment status but also in terms of ability to provide effective patient care.

Conference notes that one particular area of concern is the outsourcing of work currently performed by medical secretaries that has begun to take place across many NHS Trusts. It has become apparent that many jobs are at risk and patient’s lives are being jeopardised because of medical notes being sent abroad for typing.

Private companies have been particularly targeting hospitals with financial deficits with promises of money saving initiatives by sending secretarial work out to countries such as India, South Africa and the Philippines. However there are also companies within the UK itself bidding for such contracts.

Problems are now occurring with the accuracy of the work being returned to the hospitals, such as misunderstanding of medical terminology and errors in reporting medical dosages. In comparison medical secretaries within the NHS currently work to 99.8% accuracy.

Medical Secretarial jobs are also being put under threat by such outsourcing. Where jobs are not lost secretaries are finding their role has changed to that of proof reader to returning documentation. This is a burden on staff who feel they could have performed the work themselves to greater accuracy.

Conference resolves that the Service Group Executive maintain:

1.a vigorous campaign against privatisation and outsourcing of admin and clerical workers and services;

2.a continuous and vigorous campaign to promote admin and clerical workers as valuable members of the NHS team and not just ‘backroom workers’ with skills that can be readily privatised;

3.continued support for those staff already working either in the private sector or outsourced;

4.where, in cases of outsourcing, there is a form of monitoring, that all existing terms and conditions including facilities are adhered to;

5.a campaign to bring back in to the NHS all admin and clerical staff and services outsourced; for a network for medical secretarial staff and other admin and clerical workers affected by outsourcing;

7. working with all appropriate bodies, UNISON Labour Link etc. to lobby government and raise public awareness;

8.and promote the sharing of best organising practice in defending admin and clerical workers and services;

Conference also calls upon all regions and branches to provide necessary resources to further the campaign.