Bradford hospital workers balloted over strike action to fight ‘backdoor privatisation’

Staff at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust will vote on whether to take industrial action after the announcement of the privatisation of some of its services.

The UNISON ballot opens today (Monday) and comes after the trust said hospital staff, including porters and domestic assistants, will be outsourced to a separate company to cut costs by exploiting a tax loophole.

The transfer will strip them of the protections they have as NHS employees and is a form of backdoor privatisation, says UNISON.

Although the new company will be owned by the trust, UNISON believes outsourcing to subsidiary companies will have negative consequences for healthcare staff and potentially damaging ramifications for the NHS in England.

Trusts were ordered to pause all plans to set up private companies in September 2018 after action was taken by UNISON. New scrutiny and approval processes were put in place in December 2018, which included assurances that companies could only be set up where there was broad support.

UNISON is concerned the scrutiny process lacks substance, as NHS Improvement has allowed the Bradford trust to push ahead with its plans despite the overwhelming opposition of workers.

Promises from the trust that existing staff terms and conditions will be protected are simply not enough, says UNISON.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The staff who work for the NHS care about their jobs and it matters to them that they work for the health service. We all benefit from an NHS where everyone involved in delivering our care is part of the same team.

“Tax savings are not a good enough reason for the Trust to force people out of the NHS family and give up their cherished status as health service staff. Future leaders of the Trust will not feel bound by any guarantee over terms and conditions, so staff are right to feel wary of accepting anything other than a firm promise to keep them in direct employment.”

Notes to editors:
– Wholly owned subsidiaries – or subcos – are private companies established by NHS trusts. They are not liable for VAT payments in the same way as NHS trusts. This has led to accusations that trusts are using them to avoid paying VAT.

– In July 2018, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust reversed plans to transfer 900 workers to NHS subsidiary firm WWL Solutions. This followed a long-running campaign and dispute led by UNISON.

– A planned three-day strike at the mid-Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust led the Trust to abandon plans to transfer cleaners, catering, IT and maintenance staff to a subco.

– Threat of action by UNISON led to Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust scrapping plans to transfer around 600 staff to private firm Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Estates FM Ltd.

– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

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