Two NHS trusts are defying a top national NHS body by forging ahead with their proposals to transfer estates and maintenance staff to wholly owned subsidiaries designed to avoid paying tax.

Unite the union confirmed today (Friday 21 September) that the bosses at the two trusts - York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust – were defying NHS Improvement which this week called for a pause in the creation of such subsidiaries, pending a review next month.

Unite estates’ members at both trusts will strike next week over the proposals to transfer them from the NHS ‘family’ to a subsidiary designed to avoid tax.

More than 50 estates’ members at East Kent will strike from 00:01 on Monday 24 September until 23:59 on Friday 28 September. At York, more than 200 estates and maintenance members will strike from 06.00 on Thursday 27 September to 05.59 on Saturday 29 September.

Unite, with 100,000 members in the health service, said that NHS Improvement, the body which oversees trusts, needed to exert its authority, otherwise it risked being viewed as ‘a toothless tiger unable to stand up to hardline trust bosses’.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “These acts of defiance by these two trusts seriously undermine the credibility of NHS Improvement and, ultimately, do not reflect well on the health and social care secretary Matt Hancock who needs to get a grip of the situation.

“NHS Improvement will be seen as a toothless tiger if trusts treat its directives with contempt, as appears to be the case at East Kent and York.”

Unite lead officer for health in Yorkshire Chris Daly said: “I can confirm that the trust has told me that it is going ahead with this subsidiary - York Teaching Hospital Facilities Management LLP – which has been set up with the purpose to avoid tax.

“This is an act of arrogance considering the direction given by NHS Improvement this week that a pause needs to be instituted in setting up such subsidiaries, while a review takes place in October.

“This is a snub to NHS Improvement with its influential national remit.

“The trust has been without a permanent chief executive since May and this may explain some of the poor decision making currently taking place.

“There is still time for the trust to row back from its ill-considered proposal to transfer staff out of the NHS ‘family’.”

Unite regional officer for the Kent trust Michael Cott said: “Yesterday’s (Thursday 20 September) talks with the East Kent trust management ended with the trust saying it was still going ahead with the transfer to the subsidiary - 2together Support Solutions – from 1 October, despite being made aware of NHS Improvement’s ‘pause’ edict.

“This is very disappointing and flies in the face of the sensible advice from NHS Improvement.”

The industrial action will affect Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury; Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital, Margate; and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

Unite is concerned that trusts are forming these wholly owned subsidiary companies in England so that they can register for VAT exemption and compete on a level playing field with commercial competitors who register for VAT exemption for their work in the NHS, when NHS trusts can’t. 

Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust has become the latest trust in a growing number that has decided to abandon plans to set up such a subsidiary.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065

  • Unite is represents workers in Britain and Ireland with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.