MANAGERS of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust accepted proposals to set up a separate company to run a swathe of hospital services, despite fierce opposition.

A meeting behind closed doors of the foundation trust's board yesterday, (Oct 25) agreed with the plans to establish the trust-owned company to run estates, facilities and procurement services, in spite of opponents' claims this would amount to "backdoor privatisation."

Keighley MP John Grogan had urged the trust to put the proposals on hold, warning they would entail substantial and unnecessary expense.

But foundation trust chief operating officer, Stacey Hunter, said: “As a trust board we reviewed the business case and the feedback from our comprehensive engagement with staff and trade unions, and have agreed to proceed with setting up a wholly-owned company.

"Transferring these services into a subsidiary will enable the teams to work together more efficiently, run their own budgets, make their own decisions and bid for other contracts, while at the same time supporting us to continue providing high quality clinical services.

“This approach reflects the need to change how we manage our operations in order to thrive and be sustainable, in line with the national picture across the NHS and the trust’s drive for continual improvement in the quality of care and services we provide."

But trade union UNISON responded that the trust board had shown "contempt” towards what it described as widespread public opposition to the plans.

The union is demanding the board holds a full public consultation to allow people to raise their concerns and question the changes in detail.

It has noted that the controversial decision was made despite more than 3,000 people in less than three weeks signing a petition against the plans.

Tony Pearson, UNISON’s head of health in Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “This plan would mean any new employees would be on worse terms and conditions than existing staff who are already struggling to survive on their wages because of years of effective pay cuts.

“Everyone acknowledges there's a huge crisis of recruitment and retention in the NHS because people cannot afford to live on their pay levels.

“We believe the trust is treating the public with contempt, and they are scared of revealing the real reasons behind the plan and the real extra costs it will inevitably lead to.

“By refusing to consult with both service users and providers, the trust makes it apparent they have something to hide.

“The people whose taxes pay for the NHS, and the people who dedicate their lives to providing health care in their communities, are the first people who should have their opinions heard and debated in a public setting.

“We challenge the trust to fulfil their clear duty to consult on a plan which many believe is simply a way of cutting pay and conditions of staff while increasing the bill for a new set of senior managers."

Ms Hunter said the trust would not neglect the interests of its staff under the new arrangements.

She said: "Above all, we want to support our staff who provide the current services, to be part of this new venture.

"Our staff are our greatest asset and we believe this model enables the company to develop its staff and culture whilst still sharing the trust’s values, ethics and aspirations.

“The new subsidiary gives us an excellent opportunity to discharge our role in the wider community in respect of providing additional employment, training and development for local people, as well as enabling us to be better placed to work with local companies so driving greater economic benefit across the patch.

"The trust will begin formal TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)) consultations with staff and recognised trade unions, with the intention that the new company will go live on February 28 2018."