A public rally took place on Thursday against the perceived privatisation of hospital services in Nottingham.
The move comes as the Nottingham University Hospitals’ NHS Trust revealed last week that the current in-house Estates and Facilities team has failed in its bid to run services in QMC and City hospitals.
Instead the Trust is reviewing bids by construction companies Balfour Beatty, Interserve and Carillion.
Union officials and workers in the Estates and Facilities Department (which encompasses services such as cleaning and catering) met at a Unison-organised rally in City Campus’s Leisure Centre.
Martin Benn, Unison NUH Branch Secretary, told Impact: “The official reason that they gave was that the in-house bid was £6 million higher than the other bids…They’re saying that there’s unprecedented pressure on the hospital to save money, which there is…but to make the decision to privatise a whole directorate is completely the wrong way of going about it.”
To make the decision to privatise a whole directorate is completely the wrong way of going about it
A Trust statement defends the rejection of in-house bid, describing it as being “significantly weaker than those of the external companies” with reference to “criteria for quality and finance”.
Echoing the fears of many workers one attendee said “Interserve, Balfour Beatty, Carillion – they all have a history of poor relations with their workers.”
All three companies have been fined for bid rigging in the past, while Balfour Beatty and Carillion have been accused of blacklisting employees.
Catherine Atkinson, prospective Labour candidate for the Erewash Parliamentary constituency, spoke of an instance in which Carillion had blacklisted union activists that were campaigning for improved health and safety.
Atkinson believed that tendering the contract to one of these companies threatened to deskill the workforce, push workers into zero hour contracts and push workers onto an “unliveable minimum wage”.
Unison representatives are currently compiling a “dirty dossier” on the bidders’ employment relations records, for presentation to the Trust board.
When asked whether bid rigging or blacklisting would be accepted by the Trust, a spokesperson told Impact “as part of the tender process I’m sure every proper due diligence of investigation will take place into all ways in which those companies operate.”
Benn raised “concerns about the tendering process, because all along the Trust has said that this is about value for money not about cost, and it wasn’t until after the bidding process had finished that they changed the word ‘value for money’ to ‘cost’.”
Given the choice between clean wards and cheaper cleaning services I know what I’d choose
The Chief Executive of the Trust, Peter Homa, has been quoted as saying “let me use the word ‘cost’ instead of ‘value for money’” with reference to the qualities needed for a winning bid.
Unison believes this interchange invalid, as the pressures the two terms place upon the bidding parties are “entirely different”.
Unison also asserted that the selection of “cost” as a criterion for a winning bid violates the Trust’s ‘Standards of Business Conduct Policy’, which demands that the Trust “ensure that the interests of patients remain paramount at all times”.
A spokesman for the Trust declined to comment on Homa’s remarks.
The changes could ultimately damage the reputation of the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine.
Speaking of the record of the Estates and Facilities Department, which has won a number of NHS awards, Benn notes that “other Trusts have been to visit to see how we do it so they can replicate it in their Trusts.”
Pete Madden, a logistics driver, said “if it ain’t broke why fix it? Tweak it, yes, but don’t sell us out to the lowest bidder… I think the Trust board have made a grave error.”
Lilian Greenwood, Labour MP for Nottingham South, pledged to try to raise the issue in Parliament.
She said “given the choice between clean wards and cheaper cleaning services I know what I’d choose.”
Greenwood also highlighted that the Trust is considering offers from “firms we’ve found have donated £1.5 million to the Tory Party.”
Unison declared its intention to mount sustained opposition to the proposed changes, declaring “a programme of events that we’re going to roll out over the next 8 weeks in the run up to Christmas to put pressure on the Trust board to reverse this decision… when the Trust come to looking at ICT, Finance and HR they might have a change of heart.”
The next public meeting is scheduled to take place in the Rose and Crown at 7.30pm on 24th November 2013.
Don’t sell us out to the lowest bidder… I think the Trust board have made a grave error
Speaking to Impact the Trust confirmed that Estates and Facilities “is the first of various areas that we’ll be market testing in the future.”
Benn also suggested that the changes could ultimately damage the reputation of the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, based at QMC.
“If the clinical and medical services that are being provided in the main Trust are going down and are being affected by privatisation that in itself could have a knock-on effect on the reputation of the hospital and by association, on the reputation of the University Medical School. I understand it’s got a good reputation out there in the field, but how can you recruit medical students to a hospital that’s got a very poor reputation?”
In text images: Dylan Williams
Featured Image: Matt Buck
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