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2010 Health Care Service Group Conference
11 December 2009

Conference broadly welcome the setting of some limits to the privatisation of NHS services set out in the Secretary of State’s speech to the Kings Fund in September 2009, and the agreement through the NHS Social Partnership Forum which followed.

Conference is however concerned that a number of drivers towards privatisation such as the Framework for procuring External Support to Commissioners (FESC) remain in place, and that the Secretary of State refused to halt the drive for the establishment of ‘social enterprises’ as part of Transforming Community Services.

Conference believes that early signs are that the ‘Right to Request’ social enterprise is producing little more than what are in effect ‘management buy outs’ of services, and the disgraceful refusal of some managers leading social enterprise bids to offer staff who may be forced out of NHS employment a free and meaningful vote on their future.

While the ‘NHS as preferred provider’ approach is welcome, Conference is however concerned that there remains scope of Primary Care Trusts who want to tender a service to manoeuvre their way to doing this, by setting unachievable targets for exiting providers to portray their service as ‘failing’, or by working through far less accountable joint/inter-agency partnership commissioning structures. Already we are seeing complaints about the cost of services from commissioners which cannot possibly be made cheaper if providers are employing staff on Agenda for Change terms and conditions.

Conference welcomes the commitment to the engagement of staff and staff organisations set out in the various scenarios (which in December 2009 remained draft) but notes this requires PCT’s to engage directly with their current providers’ staff and trade unions. This will clearly be a major cultural shift for many commissioners, and the early signs at the end of 2009 were that far too often this was not taking place.

Conference calls upon the SGE to work with both the wider union (including the Labour Link) and other NHS unions to make sure that all NHS commissioning decisions are subject to an ‘NHS as preferred provider’ approach, that the ‘top down’ management led attempts to set up social enterprises are blocked, and that meaningful commissioner engagement with provider staff and their unions takes place.