Bedford Hospital must abandon any efforts to outsource its domestic services for the good of staff and patients, UNISON says.
The hospital informed domestic staff last week that it plans to market test its cleaning services, the first step towards them being sold out of the NHS.
UNISON warns that outsourcing services would hit patient safety, as researchers have found that hospitals with privatised cleaning services have higher rates of infection than those that are kept in house.
It would also drive down pay and conditions, says UNISON, as staff will no longer be on nationally agreed NHS contracts and new staff will likely be employed on worse conditions, creating a two-tier workforce.
Bedford Hospital’s high quality of cleanliness has been recognised by the Department of Health, which has designated it an exemplar site for its Patient Environment Action Team standards.
But the Trust has told staff it cannot afford to pass on nationally agree NHS pay rises, which are fully funded by the Treasury, and so is looking for ways to cut costs.
The announcement comes just weeks after the threat of strike action forced Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow to ditch its own plans to outsource domestic services.
UNISON Eastern regional organiser Winston Dorsett said: “Outsourcing would be a kick in the teeth for the domestics at Bedford Hospital.
“They went to bosses earlier this week asking for a pledge to quash the rumours about their service being sold out of the NHS. Instead they were told their fears could come true.
“It would not only be bad news for the cleaning staff. This could do real harm to patients as profit-hungry private companies come in looking for ways to cut corners.
“Bedford Hospital bosses say they’ve not made any decisions but they’re still willing to leave this threat hanging over the heads of staff and patients.
“They must abandon any plans to market test these services and immediately offer staff a cast-iron commitment that their jobs will remain in the NHS where they belong.”
The domestics met hospital bosses last week asking for a commitment not to privatise their service but were instead told it would be up for market testing. This is the petition they delivered:
We, the cleaners of Bedford Hospital, work hard every day to ensure this hospital is clean and safe for our patients, the public and the staff. A lot of us have been working here for more than 20 years and we are proud of the work we do.
However, as the Trust is looking to save money we are worried that they may decide to target the lowest-paid workers doing very physical and essential work at the hospital. We find this deeply unfair, just because we are mostly migrants and low paid doesn’t mean that we will accept our standards being lowered.
We don’t want to be the target of more cuts, lower standards or precarious conditions and we firmly and politely request the Trust not to outsource us before or during the possible merger as the cleaners in Luton & Dunstable hospital. We and our families count on our jobs and current conditions to live a dignified life.
Targeting migrant service workers and our colleagues at this time, in which many of us are facing Brexit and should be supported, is unacceptable. We are essential to the wellbeing of the hospital and we need the respect we deserve. Please work with us to ensure that we can preserve our current working conditions.