Colchester Hospital staff vote on strikes over jobs sell-off, says UNISON

Hundreds of cleaners, porters, caterers and other facilities staff at Colchester Hospital are to vote on whether to strike over plans to take their jobs out of the NHS, UNISON has announced today.

​Facilities staff at several East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) community sites are also balloting on strikes.​

ESNEFT also runs Ipswich Hospital, where facilities are run by private company OCS. The union says the trust should have taken the opportunity to bring all services back in house to improve the quality of care for patients.

Researchers in 2019 found that “private providers are cheaper but dirtier than their in-house counterparts” across 130 NHS trusts.

Colchester estates and facilities were previously outsourced, but hospital bosses brought them back in house saying it was necessary to gain greater control over service delivery, says UNISON.

Trust chiefs subsequently boasted in the Health Service Journal that by “swimming against the tide” they’d improved services.

The union says the tide has now turned in the other direction, with many NHS trusts choosing to bring services home in recent years.

Workers also fear their pay and conditions could come under attack from a new provider looking to make the contract profitable by cutting staff costs.

The trust has been criticised for continuing its outsourcing process during the general election period when public bodies are supposed to avoid making politically sensitive decisions, adds the union.

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Sam Older said: “Staff are still shocked at the callous decision to sell off their jobs.

“It’s hard to fathom who is supposed to benefit from the decision to put these services out to tender, but it’s certainly not staff or patients.

“These health workers are proud to work for the NHS and proud to put patients first. They don’t want to strike but they don’t want to be sold off to the lowest bidder either.

“The trust can easily remove the threat of industrial action by scrapping these uncaring plans immediately.”

Housekeeper Charlotte Flavell said: “I love working for the NHS and the feeling of being a part of the team. Even at the lowest band, we play our part and make a difference.

“I am devastated that hospital managers want to outsource soft facilities. I feel let down, hurt and unappreciated for all the hard work I have given the trust. We lost colleagues during Covid and many of us got it. Now this is the thanks we get.

“Staff feel like they’re just being kicked to the curb and that a very uncertain future awaits us. Everyone wants to stay working for the NHS.”

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