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The Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust is a very good trust, but I am concerned that it has transferred staff who provide the maintenance, cleanliness and operation of the hospital to a wholly-owned subsidiary company. There are two ways in which trusts can save money by setting up a subco: through savings on VAT thanks to a loophole—the Treasury appears to be willing to look the other way—and through future savings in staffing as new staff are employed outside “Agenda for Change” pay, terms and conditions. Importantly, there are also savings on pensions because those staff are denied access to the NHS pension scheme.
The savings are coming off the backs of staff, many of whom—porters, cleaners and catering staff—are already on the lowest scales. “Agenda for Change” was introduced to provide a fair and equality-proofed pay system for all NHS staff. It is bad enough that staff working for contractors in the NHS, such as those formerly employed by Carillion and now employed by companies such as Serco, which took over some of Carillion’s contracts, are not on that pay system, but the fact that NHS trusts voluntarily and even eagerly take measures to get around the system is simply outrageous.
Let us be clear: we know the problem is underfunding of our essential NHS services. This Government have failed to provide adequate funding right across the NHS and some trusts have taken the decision to set up these subcos in an effort to make that money go further. We understand that on the Labour Benches. But it is beyond the pale to ask lower-paid staff to make the savings from their own pay packets. All of us, on both sides of the House, say how much we value the NHS workforce, but that means not only nurses and doctors, but the staff who make the hospital work. They are an essential part of the NHS team, and the Government must ensure that they are treated fairly, now and in the future.
There is another concern about these subcos. There is a real concern that they are being set up ripe and ready for privatisation: a neatly packaged organisation, vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. This is not the NHS we want. We want an NHS that recognises the value all of its staff, from cleaners and porters to allied health professionals such as occupational therapists and radiographers, from maintenance staff to nurses and, yes, doctors. We need an NHS that does that so that we can provide the best possible care for patients. We need to ensure that we maintain these services in the public sector, and I know that there is huge support from my constituents for ensuring that our NHS services are directly provided by NHS staff.
Earlier today we heard that staff at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust are taking industrial action against a proposal to transfer them to a subco. More than that, they are striking against the privatisation of NHS services. I wish them, and staff in other trusts standing up for our NHS, every success.