Hospital staff hit out at plan for private workers

The Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Picture: Gareth Easton
The Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Picture: Gareth Easton
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HEALTH chiefs have been accused of sneaking privatisation in through the back door by allowing a private firm to employ maintenance workers – rather than the NHS’s own staff.

Furious maintenance workers at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) in Morningside have joined union officials to criticise NHS Lothian for allowing private contractor Morrison Construction to appoint its own estates staff to maintain the new hospital for the next 25 years.

The first phase of work to replace the 200-year-old hospital began in January as part of a £120 million redevelopment scheme, in a public-­private partnership funded by the Scottish Government.

An REH staff member, who asked not to be named, said: “When you work in a hospital you have to be aware of the patients’ needs, and the staff, which is very important. These maintenance people who are being brought in don’t know anything about what it takes to work in a hospital.

“We are absolutely raging. Why are they doing this and not giving anyone any information?”

The contract was awarded under Hub South East Scotland, which is part of a nationwide initiative set up by the Scottish Government aimed at improving public sector procurement.

The £48m initial stage is due to be completed in autumn next year and will include first-class facilities for adult acute mental health services, older people’s mental health assessment, psychiatric inpatient care and a new national brain injury unit.

Unite official Lyn Turner said: “The First Minister and a lot of the SNP have been saying that there is no privatisation in Scotland. In the meantime we have privatisation through the back door. Why shouldn’t NHS staff be allowed to work in their own hospital?

“We can’t have the government saying there is no privatisation in the health service when Unite see it day in and day out, particularly with regards to estates workers.”

NHS Lothian has a no-redundancy policy but workers were being “de-skilled” by moving to other positions, such as trained plumbers and electricians becoming porters or cleaners, said Mr Turner.

The health board’s project director, Andrew Milne, insisted staff would not be affected, but he admitted: “As part of revenue-funded deals, provided by the Scottish Government, maintenance obligations of some facilities are transferred to the service provider/developer.

“Phase 2 of the development is currently in planning, and at this early stage, the size and scoping of services is yet to be determined. However, as NHS Lothian will remain responsible for the substantial part of the site, we do not envisage a major impact on facilities/maintenance staffing, and that it would be managed in a similar way to phase 1.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Lothian has reassured the Scottish Government that no facilities and maintenance staff will be affected by this contract.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com