Union fears the onward march of privatisation


The proposed breaking-up of the debt-ridden South London Healthcare (SLH) NHS Trust will herald job losses amongst staff and the onward march of privatisation in the NHS, Unite has warned.

Since its formation in 2009, the trust – which covers the Princess Royal University Hospital (Bromley), Queen Mary’s Hospital (Sidcup) and Woolwich’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital – has chalked up £207 million in debt.

Unite said a large slice of this debt had been caused by Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts, which the union branded as “pernicious and sucking the lifeblood out of frontline services”.

Substantial job losses could be expected amongst the 6,300-strong workforce. Already, the trust’s 250-strong pathology team face a pay cut of £10,000-a-year, as contracts were being adversely recast from a nine-to-five day to a 24/7 one.

Unite believes the financial crisis engulfing SLH will have an adverse ripple effect on neighbouring trusts. For example, the proposal to merge Queen Elizabeth Hospital with Lewisham Hospital.

Unite forecasts that Lewisham Hospital, in a very deprived area, will become a walk-in treatment centre, catering for routine operations only. On November 24th there will be a march ‘to save’ the hospital and at 3pm the public will be asked to link hands around Lewisham Hospital.

Unite regional officer Phil Rose said: “The special administrator’s recommendations for the SLH trust’s future are complex, but will herald a fundamental change in the way healthcare is delivered to the local population.

“But once you strip away the managerial language, it will mean that patients in south east  London face a NHS that will be increasingly run by private companies and not for profit organisations.

“For example, we expect that under these proposals Queen Mary’s Hospital will become “a glorified health centre”.

“Job losses are implicit, if not fully spelt out, in this report. A big slice of the debt can be blamed on the PFI contracts, which is the equivalent of paying for a hospital with credit card interest rates over 30 years. PFI sucks money away which should be spent on frontline services.

“The government appointed administrator has set about breaking up the hospital services to offer up the most attractive and profitable parts to the private sector; to close local centres to allow the sell-off of the estate buildings; and to outsource professional and support staff, even though this is unlikely to yield any savings.

“This is the prospect that any so-called failing trust can expect in the future”.

Unite’s warning comes in the same week that the Public Accounts Select Committee expressed concern that ministers could not offer adequate assurances that access to good quality care would be maintained when trusts run into financial trouble.

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