Berkshire and Surrey non-medical NHS staff to strike over privatisation fears

Union members
Image caption Union members gathered outside the trust's monthly board meeting to announce the strike

Hundreds of non-medical NHS staff in Berkshire and Surrey are to strike over fears their jobs will be privatised.

Cleaners, security, catering and estate staff at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust will stage a 48-hour walkout from 07:00 GMT on 18 and 19 November.

The trust said it wanted to mirror other NHS trusts in creating a money-saving subsidiary company to run some of its non-clinical services.

Unions argue this wipes staff's NHS status and is back-door privatisation.

'Very disruptive'

Unison's regional spokesman Kieran Pearson said the proposal affected around 1,000 NHS union members.

He said members of Unison, GMB and Unite would "reluctantly" strike because they feel they "have no choice", fearing the proposal could adversely affect wages and working conditions.

He said: "They [the staff] are absolutely essential to the smooth running of the hospitals.

"We don't like to take this action but, unfortunately, it will be very disruptive."

The legislation enabling trusts to create wholly-owned subsidiaries has been in place since 2006.

Staff transferred to NHS trust subsidiary companies will no longer be NHS employees, though are guaranteed the same working conditions. A key benefit to trusts is a reduction in their VAT bills.

A spokesman for the trust, which covers Heatherwood and Wexham Park hospitals in Berkshire and Frimley Park in Surrey, said: "We have previously written and spoken to affected staff to reassure them their pay and conditions, including pensions and future pay rises, will be guaranteed.

"We don't consider this to be privatisation, as the subsidiary will remain wholly owned by Frimley Health and contracted to it for a minimum of 25 years."

They added they will continue to talk to the unions and minimise the impact on patients.

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