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Emma Lewell-Buck MP: Merger of NHS trusts a ‘backdoor to privatisation’

South Tyneside Hospital.
South Tyneside Hospital.

The ‘engagement’ process of the merger between the City Hospitals Sunderland and South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust finished last week.

This nine-week process began in July, but as the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign has said, the trusts have not properly consulted staff, citizens and patients.

This is because the trusts argue that the merger will not impact clinical services therefore they do not need to do a full public consultation.

It can’t be right that the Trust is ploughing ahead with an unpopular merger yet the public and the staff, those whom the merger will impact upon the most, have not had an opportunity to make their views known.

Unison’s survey of staff at South Tyneside District Hospital found that after asking more than 400 of their staff whether they wanted the merger or not, the majority didn’t want to merge.

They are right to be concerned. Although NHS mergers are common, a growing body of evidence shows that mergers typically fail to deliver the intended benefits.

Not only are the benefits uncertain, but the costs and difficulties associated with mergers are widely documented. The King’s Fund found that overall successful mergers are the exception rather than the rule.

The argument being made by the trusts is that the merger will make them ‘stronger together’ but the King’s study argued that when one trust is stronger than the other, a merger often has the effect of destabilising the stronger trust. In other words, problems are exacerbated across both sites.

Mergers can also result in decreased accountability. There are already signs of this in our merger; structures in South Tyneside Hospital will be downgraded, resulting in less representation from governors and unions. These are crucial safeguards designed to protect staff and services.

If the merger takes place the new trust will be responsible for around 675,000 patients and employ more than 8500 workers. This is a massive organisation and has the danger of making the system more complex rather than simplifying it.

Worse still, it paves the way for moving staff into ‘CHoICE’.

Already in operation in Sunderland, CHoICE is a ‘wholly owned subsidiary’ these wholly owned subsidiaries are arms-length management companies owned by the Trust but they move services provided in-house to a separate company and move staff from their NHS contracts to new ones.

Essentially this merger is a precursor for staff transfers and a backdoor to privatisation.

Bit by bit we are seeing in Shields the Tory-led agenda of downgrading and privatisation of our NHS gathering pace before our very eyes.

This will be the Government that sees the end of our NHS as we know it, chipping away at services and ripening conditions for private takeover by stealth.

I want to assure people in Shields that the fight for our hospital is far from over and I will continue to do all I can to stop the erosion of key services and staff terms and conditions at our hospital.