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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 June 2008

Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS

Stop this sell-off!

EMPLOYEES OF Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS trust were shocked to find out that services for patients with long-term mental health problems will be put out to private tender and that they will be transferred to a private contractor.

The staff affected currently work in services providing rehabilitation or continuing care to patients with mental health problems. Staff are angry that, despite many years of loyal service, they will not be redeployed into other jobs in the Trust.

Many patients are vulnerable and may suffer further stress as a result of the Trust's plans. There are no guarantees that the new companies will provide services in Trust property and patients may face a move to new premises.

Union members feel they are being sold to the highest bidder. One said she "felt like a piece of crap". The managers have no understanding of the impact this decision is having on staff, whose years of service and experience seem to amount to nothing.

At a recent meeting, staff at a number of units felt their NHS career was being taken away - no-one wants to work for a private employer.

The Trust or the commissioners are likely to put services out to tender this year and possible bidders include Affinity Health Care, The Priory and Virgin. The Trust say they will work in partnership with whoever wins the contract to ensure standards are maintained. But these companies are profiteering from the NHS and this is part of the move towards wholesale privatisation of the service.

Trust managers enthusiastically embrace the government's market reforms. Staff in other areas fear the move to foundation status will speed up this process and bring further staff transfers as the Trust is forced to compete with other NHS Trusts and the private sector.

Managers say staff will retain terms and conditions under TUPE regulations, but private contractors can quickly reduce pay and other benefits currently enjoyed by NHS staff. Staff are also concerned about their pensions and whether they will be able to retire at 55, currently the case for those with mental health officer status.

Continuing care staff in the seven units affected are committed to resisting the moves and are holding regular meetings to plan a campaign of action involving service users, carers and the wider community.

By a Unison member

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