Cleaning, catering and portering services in East Kent Hospitals, currently run by Serco, will transfer to a new NHS-owned organisation under proposals announced by the Trust today (May 9).
Around 850 staff currently working for Serco, and 250 NHS staff working in estates, procurement and facilities services within the Trust, are coming together to form a social enterprise that will provide support services for the NHS in a bid to further improve standards for patients.
NHS staff will have their NHS terms and conditions of employment protected under TUPE law (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)).
Serco, which has been providing facilities services to East Kent Hospitals since 2012, has agreed to exit its contract a year early. It will transfer staff into the limited company wholly-owned by the NHS Trust..
The contract covers cleaning, catering, portering, retail, switchboard and staff accommodation for the Trust. Transferring Serco staff will also have their current employment terms and conditions maintained under TUPE.
The Trust plans for the new company to begin trading from August 1. Once formed the company will run its own budget and any savings will be invested in frontline clinical services, the social enterprise and its staff.
The Trust and Serco will now begin formal TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)) processes with staff and their recognised trade unions.
EKHUFT Chief Executive Susan Acott said: “Many of the staff who are transferring from Serco used to work directly for East Kent Hospitals so it’s great that they will be more closely connected to the Trust again.
“This is a slightly different set up than some Trusts in that most of the staff transferring into the new organisation are coming from the private sector.
“These teams are very proud to support the NHS and the care it gives its patients.
“Around 250 staff who currently work in the Trust’s estates, procurement, transport and logistics teams will also transfer, which will allow the NHS to retain experienced and skilled staff in the NHS family. We want to make the experience as seamless for staff as possible.
“Our aim is to have an organisation with a social purpose that is rooted in its local community and gives stability – the 25-year contract for east Kent will provide this stability for these crucial services.”
Wendy Sinclair, Serco’s contract director, added: “We are very proud of what we have achieved in partnership with the Trust in some challenging circumstances and pleased to be able to handover a safe and successful service.
“Working together, we have significantly improved the cleanliness and feel of East Kent Hospitals and provided award-winning patient catering services. I would like to thank our staff for all their hard work and wish them every success for the future. We will be working closely with the Trust to ensure a smooth transfer for all concerned and minimise any impact on service.”
Union Unite says the company will lead to the erosion of staff pay, terms and conditions.
Unite regional officer Kathy Walters said: “This plan is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ with the prime aim of cutting costs and eroding NHS workers’ pay, terms and conditions.
“Rather than bringing Serco workers back in-house, East Kent Hospital bosses are seeking to avoid paying nationally agreed NHS pay rates by setting up an arms-length company and transferring long-serving direct employees into it.
“It is an underhand way to treat hospital staff who play an invaluable role in delivering the best possible patient care to the communities of East Kent.
“Unite has successfully campaigned to stop the outsourcing of estates and other staff in the past and we fully intend to do so again.
“In the coming days we will be working with our partner trade unions to consult with members, patient groups and concerned members of the public on taking forward a campaign to stop what is effectively privatisation via the back door.”
County councillor Karen Constantine says she will be writing to CCG Managing Director Caroline Selkirk.
She added: “It’s deeply worrying that so many jobs will now be transferred into a new company. The TUPE regulations will afford some protection, but in reality that will only be in the short term. Staff will now be very concerned about their futures, the prospect of jobs losses, the fear of downbanding, and subject to ‘uncertainty’.
“This is a missed opportunity, these employees should have been bought back in house.
“I hope the new ALB Arms length body will pay NHS rates and adhere to other NHS terms and conditions let’s hope this isn’t used as an opportunity to utilise zero hour contracts, short term contracts or minimum wages. We need the best employment conditions to attract and retain staff.”