'This could lead to backdoor NHS privatisation' - councillor raises concerns after claims that IT staff at Warwick Hospital have been 'forced to leave the NHS against their will'
A former employee of South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust (SWFT) who is now a Warwick town councillor has raised concerns about the trust 'forcing staff at Warwick Hospital to leave working for the health service against their will'.
Cllr Noel Butler (Con, Aylesford) says that by 100 IT staff members being moved under transfer of undertakings protection of employment (TUPE) , SWFT is being unfair to those staff who have 'proudly and loyally' worked for the health service for years and could lead to 'privatisation of part of the NHS by the backdoor'.
Cllr Butler said: "SWFT has set up a wholly owned subsidiary called ‘Innovate’ and intend to TUPE all the IT staff at SWFT (and George Elliot Hospital in Nuneaton) to it.
"The staff are in the IT, digital transformation and IG areas which support all the technology in the trust.
"This would have the effect that the staff would no longer work for the NHS.
"Innovate had been set up during the pandemic with SWFT personnel as directors and before any consultation with the staff concerned started.
"It would appear from this that the consultation was prejudged and was only going to have one outcome.
"In their response to the consultation, staff were almost unanimous that they didn’t want to leave the NHS but have now been sent a letter saying if they don’t sign new contacts with Innovate, they will have no job.
"Some of these staff have over 30 years’ service in the NHS and a number have been working for it for over half its existence.
"It is a dreadful way to treat such loyalty.
"They take great pride in working for the NHS and want to stay working for it.
Cllr Butler said he believes the move is being done for 'tax purposes'.
He added: "Senior management at the trust have been quoted as saying that ‘IT staff don’t consider themselves part of the NHS’.
"As someone who worked in IT at Warwick Hospital for more than ten years this is simply not true.
I was extremely proud to work for the NHS as were my colleagues, many of whom are still working there.
"If senior management really believe this, then they are completely out of touch with their staff.
"I have a major concern that as a subsidiary, not part of the NHS, Innovate could be sold off and the scheme could the start of a journey that will lead to privatisation of part of the NHS by the backdoor.
"Just as important is the impact it could have on the quality of IT support to the trust.
"As I mentioned earlier this company will support all the technology in the trust and it could finish up being run by a profit-making company which has to answer to shareholders for the profits and dividends it generates.
"We have seen many times in recent years where this scenario ends up with poor quality service as costs are cut to improve profitability.
"You have to ask yourself why all this is being done with no publicity. I believe it is because if the general public got to know what is happening to the staff, they would oppose it on both counts i.e. dreadful treatment of loyal staff and the privatisation of part of the NHS.
"Considering what NHS staff have gone through over the past year this scheme is extremely insensitive to their feelings and in the longer term if the subsidiary was sold could lead to poor support for IT at the trust.
"As a local councillor I am concerned about this direction of travel and feel the scheme should come into the public domain and receive proper scrutiny.
In response, a spokeswoman for SWFT said the Trust denies the claims and that the move has had the backing of staff and the board.
They added: “At SWFT we are lucky to be in a position to work with our neighbour and fellow foundation group member, George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust.
"This close relationship helps us to overcome similar challenges and achieve a shared vision.
"Working together enables us to bring a range of skills together, share best practice and strengthen and develop our services.
"Non-clinical functions including ICT, play very important roles in supporting the delivery of NHS services so both trusts wanted to bring these functions together to work collaboratively.
"One of the options that was scoped and subsequently approved was to bring the teams together through the Trust’s wholly owned subsidiary company.
"As a Foundation Trust we have a wholly owned subsidiary company which manages a range of non-clinical estates and facilities services. SWFT Clinical Services Ltd enables us to deliver essential services in a flexible approach, whilst generating profits to re-invest back into our local NHS.
"The Trust is the parent company so this model provides protection from external providers and keeps staff within the NHS family.
"Before this process started, SWFT set up another subsidiary to explore options for providing more services externally, it was never specifically intended for ICT services.
"Staff engagement was a key element to this proposal and a series sessions to gather their feedback took place at the beginning of the process.
"Staff views were reflected in the proposals that were shared with both boards. The board approved the decision to transfer ICT teams to a wholly owned subsidiary, which staff voted to name the company Innovate Healthcare Services.
"Both Trust’s recognise how important these teams are to the organisations and therefore the key reason for bringing them together under a wholly owned subsidiary is to enable us to take advantage of opportunities that would not be possible otherwise.
"It will enable us to invest in our teams and infrastructure and we will also look at growing the workforce to offer services to other public sector organisations and creating new income streams, all of which would be re-invested back in to the NHS.
"As a subsidiary company staff play a big part in shaping the future of the company and its services.
"All staff will be transferred on their existing terms and conditions.”