UNISON warns against outsourcing of NHS support services staff

Staff are ‘rightly anxious’ about the implications of cost-cutting pressure on trusts

UNISON has warned health chiefs that any outsourcing of support service functions is “likely to lead to opposition” from members.

In June, NHS Improvement, the NHS regulator, instructed all NHS trusts in England to produce plans for the merger of support and pathology services with neighbouring trusts.

The move is part of the regulator’s effort to reduce the NHS providers’ £550 million deficit for 2016/17. The body cites the Carter Review findings, which it says demonstrate “significant potential savings” if support services and pathology services were consolidated on a regional basis.

Trusts have been given until this month to formalise their plans.

But in a letter to NHS chief executives, UNISON’s deputy head of health Sara Gorton said that staff working in support functions were “rightly anxious” about the implications of such mergers on their future job security and roles.

“Moreover, at a time when the NHS is facing huge challenges, the [instruction] could have a big impact on the morale and motivation of staff working in much-needed support services occupations, and affect the delivery of services to patients.

“In addition to the potential for further role change and instability, the instruction also raises the prospect that organisations like yours may consider outsourcing of support services functions within the trust.

“I need to be very clear that this option is likely to lead to opposition from members who will feel strongly about the value of having employment with an NHS organisation and will want to keep their current employer as provided in their terms and conditions.”

Ms Gorton added that UNISON would use its role at national level to explore what procedures were envisaged for effecting the mergers, for example what contractual mechanisms had been considered.

And she urged the chief executives to share any such discussions that they had already had, with the union.

“Early conversations and an opportunity to influence your thinking on this matter will help to alleviate the deep concerns that members currently feel,” she said.