Staff at Plymouth primary care trust (PCT) have voted overwhelmingly against plans for community services to be transferred to a social enterprise by April 2011, because of fears about the quality of patient care and safety.
Unite, the largest union in the country, has called for the Plymouth public to have an ‘open and transparent’ debate on the social enterprise proposal.
A joint trade union survey of over 1,000 PCT employees has found that just four per cent support the move out of the NHS into a social enterprise.
Services that could be affected include health visiting, mental health nursing, children’s services, community pharmacy and sexual health advising.
A social enterprise is a commercial organisation, one step removed from the NHS that can win – and lose – contracts to provide services to the NHS for a limited period of time.
Terry Keefe, Unite regional officer, said: ”If the plans go ahead the NHS name would become just a marketing brand. Staff would no longer be employed by the NHS. Trade unions have no evidence that all the other options have been fully explored and have written to the PCT to question decisions made to date. We need an open and transparent debate.
Staff and local managers are being steamrollered by regional and national objectives to move into social enterprise which will, in effect, privatise Plymouth PCT’s NHS services.
Given the timescale involved in this initiative, it will be a done deal before the public realise what has happened. The PCT is organising a series of public engagement events and it is crucial that members of the public, service users, support groups and other organisations attend, ask questions and make their views known.
To set up an enterprise of this size in just a few months will leave the social enterprise in a vulnerable position with services likely to be picked off by the private sector in years to come.
In other parts of the South West, social enterprises have been stopped, such as Devon PCT and Somerset PCT. The race is on to save Plymouth NHS PCT services.”
If the social enterprise loses its contracts to, for example, a North American private healthcare company in five years time, jobs could be lost and services to the public could become fragmented. The ethos of a NHS providing a unified, joined-up service for patients could disappear.