Health workers win two-year battle against privatisation in Frimley

UNISON members have won the battle to keep their NHS jobs, after threats to transfer workers to a wholly owned subsidiary were made in April 2019

UNISON Frimley health branch members are celebrating after emerging triumphant from a two-year battle against privatisation.

UNISON hailed the decision of the trust board to ditch plans to form a wholly owned subsidiary as a huge victory for NHS workers, with ramifications that stretch across the health service.

Frimley health branch secretary Maura Price said: “It’s fantastic news. It’s such a relief for all involved. When I gave the news to a member, she dropped to her knees. People are saying they hadn’t realised what a weight this has been for them to all carry for the past couple of years. We’re all so relieved.”

UNISON South East regional organiser Patrick Kenny said: “The trust’s decision to scrap its unpopular and controversial wholly owned subsidiary plans is a massive victory for NHS workers.

“Over a thousand hardworking staff at Wexham Park, Heatherwood and Frimley Park hospitals should never have been put at risk of being taken out of the NHS.”

Branch secretary Maura Price described the Frimley Health Foundation Trust in Surrey as being “a family” and adding that “we need to keep all of our staff in our family, no matter what pay band. Especially given how much support they’ve given patients over COVID-19.”

The battle began in April 2019, when over 1,000 workers across three sites – Frimley Park, Heatherwood and Wexham Park – were told that the trust would be changing estates and facilities into a wholly owned subsidiary.

This would amount to ‘backdoor privatisation’ and would take staff off the NHS Agenda for Change pay structure and could lead to the erosion of their rights, security and conditions at work.

By mid-2019, UNISON organisers had rallied the workforce, held two large demonstrations and tripled the membership base. The most powerful moment was a 99.5% ‘yes’ vote for industrial action, which was eventually put on hold when management agreed to pause the transfer plans.

Regional organiser Patrick Kenny said that: “These staff are passionate about the health service and ran a magnificent campaign against privatisation of the NHS by the backdoor.”

Once COVID-19 hit, trust management placed plans on indefinite hold. Last week, it became clear that the board had quietly called off the transfer.

Branch secretary Maura Price said: “I only found out by accident. There was no communication from the chief executive, Neil Dardis. I asked him for an update last week and he said that the board had decided not to follow through”.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “It will be a huge relief for staff and their families that the trust has finally scrapped its plans to move them into a subco.

“Our members made it clear over the last two years that they wanted to remain working for the NHS they know and love. UNISON will continue to campaign for this form of backdoor privatisation to be stamped out.”

Regional organiser Patrick Kenny added that: “The pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the importance of a unified NHS with everyone working together.

“Staff will be relieved the subsidiary nightmare is behind them. They can now focus once again on providing outstanding care for patients.”