Unison slams transfer of more than 700 Chesterfield Royal Hospital staff to independent company as 'disastrous for patient care'

Chesterfield Royal Hospital.
Chesterfield Royal Hospital.

Unison has slammed the transfer of more than 700 staff at Chesterfield Royal Hospital to a new independent company as 'disastrous for patient care'.

The board of directors at Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is aiming to put the wholly-owned subsidiary company - Derbyshire Support and Facilities Services (DSFS) - in place by the end of March.

The plans received criticism when they were announced last year and today Unison East Midlands regional organiser, Pam Shepherd, said: “These private companies are being established simply to slash the VAT liabilities of trusts, and to cut the pay and pensions for newly recruited staff.

“Staff are being given false promises about extra cash incentives but the fact of the matter is it reinforces a two-tier workforce. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to work out this money will not go to porters, cleaners and caterers but to management further up the food chain.

“The result of this privatisation of Chesterfield Royal Hospital will be an exodus of experienced and caring staff, which will have a disastrous effect on patient care.”

But the hospital says the confirmation will 'end a period of uncertainty for 700 staff, safeguarding a range of valuable and essential services, and protecting jobs from the risk of third party outsourcing, reduced staffing numbers and even potential redundancies as a way of cutting back on overall costs'.

In July 2018, the board agreed that an independent subsidiary company, 100 per cent owned by the Trust, was the ‘best way forward to future-proof’ its finance, IT, procurement, clinical engineering and facilities and estates services.

The Royal’s director of finance and contracting, Lee Outhwaite, said: “Last July the board’s directors described the decision to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary as ‘one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make in our 15 years as an NHS Foundation Trust’. Creating an independent company was a really tough strategic move, necessitated by the current NHS climate, although adapting how the Trust works will preserve key services.

“The subsidiary will be able to operate in a dynamic and beneficial way, running healthcare facilities and support services on a more commercial footing - to best practice quality standards, in a cost effective way; and giving the public value for the money they put into the NHS.

“Whilst essentially independent, DSFS will remain firmly within the Chesterfield Royal Hospital ‘family’, with the same ethos, values and principles. Overall the subsidiary will remain committed to providing our patients and colleagues with first-class support services.”

The transfer process was initially put back in September when health service regulator NHS Improvement (NHSI) requested a ‘pause’ from all organisations planning to do the same.

The request to defer was designed to enable NHSI to develop a new national policy and best practice guidance for any organisation proposing to set-up a subsidiary within the confines of the NHS. The Royal’s business case was submitted for review against this new guidance in mid-December 2018.

NHS Improvement has now formerly responded to the Trust’s plans and – baring some points of clarification – is content for the Trust to seek final and formal approval for its case at a meeting later this month. This timetable means the Trust could be in a position to 'go-live' with the company at the end of March.

A letter to staff by Mr Outhwaite confirms each of them will transfer over to Derbyshire Support and Facilities Services (DSFS) on Monday, April 1 2019, in line with TUPE regulations – ensuring their terms and conditions of employment, including pay, NHS pension, annual leave and sick pay remain unchanged.

The Trust says it is continuing to host face-to-face briefings over the next few weeks to take people through the next and final stage of the process.