NHS trusts are spending millions outsourcing staff to private companies, says UNISON

An FOI request reveals the amount spent by NHS trusts on consultants

NHS trusts across England are spending millions of pounds outsourcing staff to new arms-length private companies, says UNISON today (Monday).

Using a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, UNISON has revealed that NHS trusts are shelling-out huge amounts of money on consultants. These companies are advising trusts on the setting up of wholly owned subsidiaries, to which staff are then outsourced.

UNISON says that these new companies appeal to NHS trusts because they can reduce their VAT payments, and cut the pay and pensions for any new staff recruited. The health workers that are being transferred tend to be the lowest paid within the NHS, such as porters and cleaners.

Only 22 out of 31 NHS trusts that UNISON approached complied with the FoI request – published to coincide with the start of its annual health conference – but the amount spent by just 15 of them is already in excess of £3.2 million.

Topping the list of high-spenders is Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Birkenhead, which spent more than £661,000 establishing a wholly owned subsidiary.

The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust have both already spent a minimum of £400,000 setting up subsidiaries. Meanwhile, Airedale NHS Trust in Yorkshire spent an estimated £343,000 outsourcing staff.

To put some perspective on the amount spent by some of these trusts, UNISON has found that the £3 million outlaid to date on transferring staff could have paid the annual salary of around 200 extra hospital cleaners*.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The amount of public money being frittered away on transferring NHS staff to private companies is a disgrace, especially at a time when there’s such a huge squeeze on resources.

“These wholly owned subsidiaries are creating a two-tier workforce where new staff are likely to be far worse off in terms of their pay and pensions. There is also no evidence that these new companies improve efficiency or productivity.

“Porters, cleaners and other staff chose to be part of the NHS team, not to be contracted out and treated like second-class employees.”

Notes to editors:
– * Based on an NHS cleaner currently on band 1 (spine point 2) who is earning an annual salary of £15,404. UNISON believes this is of particular concern with research showing that a lack of cleaners is associated with a greater incidence of MRSA.
– Last year Oxford University published a paper on the incidence of MRSA and its links to cleanliness on wards. The report said: “…we can draw on the findings of a study that introduced an extra cleaner to two matched wards for six months each, using a crossover design, and found a 27% reduction in infections with MRSA, with the benefit disappearing after removal of the cleaner (S. J. Dancer et al., 2009). This is directly relevant to our finding that outsourced cleaning employs fewer staff.”
– ** Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust is involved with three subsidiary companies – Salisbury Trading Ltd (providing linen services in the trust), Sterile Supplies Limited (a joint venture with Steris – formerly Synergy – that provides sterilisation and disinfection services), and Wiltshire Health and Care LLP (formed with the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust and Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).
– The 9 trusts that failed to respond to the FoI request are: Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust; Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust; Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust; City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust; Bolton NHS Foundation Trust; University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust; North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust; the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust; Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust.
– The information on Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust is freely available on its website and so no FoI was necessary.
– UNISON’s annual health conference will be held between Monday 16 April and Wednesday 18 April at Brighton Centre, Kings Road BN1 2GR. The event is open to the media. If you would like to attend please email press@unison.co.uk with your name, job title, the media outlet you work for, and a passport-sized photo. No flash photography is allowed at any UNISON conference or meeting.
– UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis will address delegates on Monday morning. Also on the first morning, there’ll be speeches looking ahead to the 70th birthday of the NHS in July from Aneira Thomas, the first baby born in the NHS, and Patrick Vernon, the director of Black Thrive, who’ll speak about the contribution made by the Windrush generation.
– Debates at the conference will highlight the problems many healthcare workers face such as abuse and violent assaults, growing workload pressures and the outsourcing of staff to arms-length private companies. The consultation on the NHS pay offer will also be launched at the conference.

Media contacts:
Clare Santry T: 0203 627 2446 M: 07944 191479 E: c.santry@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 0203 740 5475 M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk