By Chris Cornell / HealthKent & CanterburyWelfare / 0 Comments

Estates staff at three Kent hospitals have this week gone on strike over this month over plans to transfer them to a wholly owned subsidiary to avoid paying tax. Unite, the country’s largest union, announced the action which affects the local Kent & Canterbury last month and our activists have been showing their solidarity by joining the pickets in Canterbury and Margate.

Unite balloted its more than 50 estates’ members employed by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and they voted by 85 per cent for strike action over plans to transfer them to a wholly owned subsidiary called 2together Support Solutions.

The Labour Party shares Unite’s concerns that the creation of wholly owned subsidiaries could lead to job losses and salami slicing of service provision. Unite regional officer Michael Cott said: “We are strongly against the formation of these entities which, we believe, could lead to a Pandora’s Box of Carillion-type meltdowns – with the adverse knock-on effects on patient services and jobs.

“They have a strong desire to remain employed by the trust and not to be employed by the 2together Support Solutions subsidiary which has been set up with the purpose to avoid tax. Our members in Kent fear that such a move will create a two-tier workforce with new staff on inferior conditions and this, in turn, will increase the problems of recruiting and retaining new staff.”

Rory Heap, Chair of Kent Unite Community and an activist in our Whitstable branch said of the protest, “The East Kent health trust has refused to negotiate on this issue. This is a real threat to a publicly owned NHS and its encouraging to see support on our picket lines this week.”

Recently, two trusts – University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, and the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust – backed down on their plans for a wholly owned subsidiary, following pressure from health unions.

By Rita O'Brien / HealthKent & Canterbury / 0 Comments

We read your glowing article on Helen Whately (10 May) with a weary cynicism.  Like most Tory MPs, Ms Whately regularly expresses her commitment to the NHS and no doubt she is sincere in her wish to see a regenerated Kent and Canterbury hospital.  But there is a serious flaw in her protestations – she supports a government which, since coming into office, has systematically undermined the NHS through repeated funding cuts and privatisation.

For most of its 70-year existence, the NHS has received annual funding increases of between 3-4% but this changed in 2010 with Tory austerity policies.  Since then the annual increase in NHS funding has only been 1.1%, and is predicted to be even lower over the next three years.  This has resulted in staff cuts and longer waiting lists. And despite an estimated 40,000 nurse vacancies the government has abolished bursaries for trainee nurses, making it even more expensive to train. We see the results of these budget cuts every day on our TV screens, with A&E departments overwhelmed, and ambulances queuing to deliver seriously ill people.

Given these continuing financial constraints, it is difficult to see where the money will be found for the major developments supported by Whately at the K&C, even with contributions from a private developer. What she should be doing, along with Labour MP Rosie Duffield, is demanding the money necessary to fund three good hospitals, providing all the people of East Kent with the health care we need.

Regarding privatization, the NHS continues to give huge contracts to private companies, like Virgin Health, with no evidence that they provide better or more cost-effective services.  Indeed the whole contracting process is costing millions of pounds, which would be better spent on patient care.  Added to which we have the appalling spectacle of Virgin taking the NHS to court when they don’t win a contract!

Even some of Whately’s Tory colleagues have acknowledged that the Health and Social Care Act, was a disaster.  Passed by the coalition government in 2012, it fragmented and destabilised the NHS and cost billions. And now another stealthy reorganisation is under way – the so-called Sustainability and Transformation plans (STPs) which Whately supports.  These claim they will deliver more community based services and better integration of health and social care – all aspirations we share – but the real motivation is saving money.  The Kent and Medway STP for instance states clearly that the proposed changes are essential to avoid £486 million deficit by 2021.

Whately mentions patients unable to leave hospital due to lack of social care places yet since 2010, the Tories have reduced funding for local authorities by almost 40%. Even the leader of the Tory Kent County Council says they face making “unpalatable “ cuts in frontline services.

If Helen Whately really supports the NHS, as she claims, she would surely be asking questions of her own government and not consistently voting for policies which damage our health and social care services.  Until she does, we remain sceptical about her passion for the NHS.