We should congratulate ourselves on assembling a lobby at such short notice: there were 4 CHS staff, 2 Bridgwater Trades Council, 3 Yeovil Trades Council, 1 Unite rep. from Westlands, Chair of Bridgwater Senior Citizens’ Forum, 2 Bridgwater Forward, 1 member of Yeovil Green Party, and Unite full-time regional officer Heathcliffe Pettifer.
Also present were representatives from BBC Somerset, Western Daily Press, the Guardian and a local Yeovil paper. I understand that BBC Somerset carried at least two reports of the meeting and our presence during the day.
At the beginning, Sheralyn, Sharon and myself were allowed to put questions/comments ( 3 minutes each) to the Board members. Sheralyn asked for an extension of the deadline for decision-making, Sharon asked for a staff ballot, and I said the consultation was inadequate, the “social enterprise” option should be scrapped and Community Health Services should remain within the NHS. Letters were circulated from Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP, Charlie Graham ( Green Party) and Brian Smedley ( Bridgwater Trades Union Council and Labour Party) all asking for an extension to the deadline for decision-making.
Chief Executive, Ian Tipney explained the background to the proposals to transfer Community Health Services. I’m not entirely sure what to make of a man who calls health spending: “ mapping the money to individual care pathways”, but when he claimed that the PCT “had engaged very thoroughly with staff” ( this is after a 12% response rate to the staff consultation) I realised we might be inhabiting parallel universes! He said that the debate should not be about a competition between two organisational forms ( i.e. setting up a social enterprise and merging with the existing NHS foundation) but finding the best way to organise and deliver community health services. This attempt to de-politicise the issue is used to persuade Board members that they are not taking part in the government’s ideological crusade against the NHS, but simply making choices about the best way to deliver services. It may be that one or two of the members believe this: indeed, at the end of the meeting, one member asked whether it was true that a social enterprise would mean community health services being outside the NHS! It’s frightening to think that it had only just occurred to him! Moral: beware of people in positions of power who say they are not “political”! ( see PCT web-site and details of PCT Board members!)
Judith Brown summarised the feedback from staff ansd stressed that, whatever the outcome, there will be no additional NHS organisation: there are only two options remaining.
Phil Brice then summarised the responses from stakeholders and public. He seemed to think that 36 responses was a satisfactory number. If we had expected some doubt to creep in that perhaps only giving people around 10 working days to respond to a complex set of proposals, during a fortnight in the summer holidays, might be just a tad unreasonable, then I can only say that the members were desperate to be reassured that this was not the case. In the questions and discussion at the end, most contributors said they were now reassured that the PCT had done the best it could in the circumstances! The responsibility was placed at the door of the government who they say are bringing deadlines forward. Why does it not occur to anyone to challenge the government? Isn’t this how elected dictatorships come about? Judith Brown and the Chief Executive were vague on some of the details of the transfer to a social enterprise, in particular in relation to pensions. Tipney said he thought it was important to “persuade” the social enterprise to set up a pension scheme comparable with the NHS! He is clearly unaware of what is happening to private pensions in the real world. Or is he?
What has shocked me from the start is that there have not yet been any discussions with the NHS Foundation Trust about a possible merger, so the Trust’s response to this option is unknown! Further proof, if you needed any, that the PCT made up its mind which option to recommend before they started the consultation.
Both Sharon and Sheralyn returned firmly to their opening positions in their remarks at the end of the meeting. They should be congratulated for insisting so calmly and effectively on the rights of staff to be properly involved. The recommendation of the PCT will be forwarded to the Strategic Health Authority, who will announce a decision on Monday.
Lindsey is organising a follow-up meeting for staff to consider the SHA decision and the next step for staff: date and venue to be announced
BRIDGWATER TRADES UNION COUNCIL