Thousands sign petition opposing Chesterfield hospital plans
Nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition opposing plans to transfer around 800 NHS staff to an independent firm.
Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is consulting with workers in estates and facilities, IT, procurement and finance on the idea of setting up a subsidiary company.
The trust says the business - which it would wholly-own - could help to protect jobs and prevent outsourcing to the private sector.
But the petition states: "This is in reality privatisation by the back door.
"While the trust has put forward some guarantees for existing staff, they will lose NHS employee status on transfer and new starters are likely to be on worse terms and conditions as has been the case at all bar one similar private companies established by other health trusts."
A member of staff at Chesterfield Royal Hospital told the Derbyshire Times they feared the idea was a 'done deal'.
However, a trust spokesperson said: "We hope any staff member that hears something they're concerned about will come and speak to us, so we can allay fears and anxieties.
"They can do that at one of the weekly sessions we're running through to the end of July or through the e-mail account we've set up.
"As we said when we announced our exploration of this idea, the business case won't be completed until the summer, at which time the board of directors will make a decision about the proposal.
"The project team is doing some work to prepare for the possibility of a subsidiary going ahead, but hasn't ordered anything or set up a bank account.
"We have created a draft name and logo, which we've already shared with staff and with NHS England - as staff say it would be important for them to be able to keep wearing the NHS logo, alongside that of any company.
"If we come to a point where things like new uniforms need to be considered, we'd do this with the staff who would be wearing them, so they can choose what they look like.
"These sorts of preparations are sensible in a project that could have a really tight timescale once a decision is made.
"They don't mean the wholly-owned subsidiary is a 'done deal' - and all feedback, along with petitions, is an important part of enabling people to share their thoughts and views as part of the business case development."
Health secretary visit
Meanwhile, health secretary Jeremy Hunt was at the hospital on Friday.
The trust spokesperson said: "The secretary of state for health came for a private visit to Chesterfield Royal Hospital - as part of his pledge to visit all acute hospitals in the country to talk about patient safety.
"He gave a presentation to around 100 frontline clinical staff and hosted a question and answer session.
"The trust's director of nursing Lynn Andrews spoke about our approach to keeping patients safe and shared our successful initiatives, including SWARM - a new way of getting staff together immediately after a patient safety incident - to ensure swift learning and immediate actions.
"Mr Hunt stayed about 90 minutes and thanked all the staff at Chesterfield Royal Hospital for their hard work and commitments to great patient care."
In a statement, Mr Hunt said: "It was a pleasure to meet staff at Chesterfield Royal Hospital where I saw first-hand just how dedicated they are to improving patient safety.
"The trust is leading the way in developing new initiatives to build and promote a strong learning environment in the trust and I look forward to seeing how these progress."