Barry Mason 30/10/12

Administrative staff including medical secretaries and receptionists employed by the Mid Yorkshire National Health Service Trust have voted to take strike action beginning November 1.

The Mid Yorkshire Trust comprises hospitals in Dewsbury, Wakefield and Pontefract. Over 500 workers were balloted by Unison, of which 88 percent voted for strike action and 96 percent voted for action short of a strike. They voted after the Trust announced plans to make over 70 posts redundant and to lower the pay bands of nearly 300 administrative staff, meaning they would lose between £1,500 and £3,000 a year on top of an on-going pay freeze.

Unison has called a one day strike for Thursday November 1 followed by a work to rule and overtime ban, with the possibility of further days of strike action. The Trust’s aim in declaring the job cuts and pay reductions is to save about £1.6 million in an effort to address this year’s estimated £26 million deficit.

The Trust has also announced its intention to cut the Accident and Emergency (A&E) and Maternity service at Dewsbury hospital. There is a heavy demand for A&E services there, with a local newspaper reporting a nurse saying that on  one day, “The hospital is getting busier and busier…There were people queuing out the door.”

At Pontefract, the overnight service at the A&E department was closed from November last year until September this year, when an overnight service was reinstated. The overnight closure was due to a lack of middle grade doctors to staff the service. Patients needing overnight A&E treatment had to travel to Wakefield or Dewsbury. The overnight service that resumed in September is now being provided by a private company, Primecare, which uses Gps.

A large part of the Mid Yorkshire Trust’s financial straits arise from it being tied into a Private Finance Initiative deal that was used to build new hospitals at Wakefield and Pontefract.

Private Eye has reported that the Trust is paying the PFI body around £35 million a year as part of a 35-year deal which covers the construction costs of the new hospitals at Pontefract and Wakefield and the on-going maintenance, cleaning, catering and security costs.

For the year 2012/13 the trust estimates it will pay £34.2 million to the PFI body out of its £440 million budget. The PFI body Consort Healthcare was initially set up between Balfour Beatty and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), who put up the £311 million. It is expected to get back around £1 billion. RBS later sold its stake to an arm of the HSBC bank called HICL Infrastructure, which is based in Guernsey. Private Eye claimed that the use of the Guernsey offshore company was to enable £1.5 million of profits to be deposited to avoid paying tax.

Another drain on finance has been the money paid to consultants, since March last year the trust has paid out £3.4 million to accountants Ernst &Young and management consultants Finnamore for drawing up the plans to cut posts and pay of the administrative staff.

On taking up his post as Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley (now replaced by Jeremy Hunt) instructed the trust to sack weekend cleaning staff and put a freeze on recruitment.

To make up for staff shortages, the trust has had to use agency staff. According to the pro-Labour Party political website, the Green Benches, the Mid Yorkshire Trust is spending £1,600 a day on agency staff. Amongst the agencies the trust uses is Medacs. Medacs is part of the Impellam group in which major party donor and former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Ashcroft owns an interest.