21 Sep 2011

NHS social enterprise in Glos will not be safe

The protest to stop Stroud hospital and NHS services leaving the NHS is this Saturday at 10.30 - see here. Well I've just read in The Guardian re the story of Central Surrey Health losing out on a bid to Assura Medical (a private, for-profit company where Richard Branson's Virgin is the majority shareholder) - see here.

This is of huge relevance to the proposed handover of Stroud Hospital and Gloucestershire NHS Health services to Gloucestershire Care Services Community Interest Company (a 'Social Enterprise' like Central Surrey Health). It is exactly what we have been predicting will happen in three years times to our health services if the handover goes ahead. Central Surrey Health was the UK’s first social enterprise to leave the NHS and set up as an employee-owned business four years ago. It was even selected by the Cabinet Office to help mentor employee-owned organisations coming out of the public sector. At the Stakeholder Drop In last night in Stroud, a campaigner was specifically told that Central Surrey Health had been looked at as a model by Gloucestershire Care Services.

Click on read more to see the letter sent to the press by many Stroud Town councillors re their concerns.

On 12th September 2011 Stroud Town Council considered the proposed transfer of Health Services in the county from NHS Gloucestershire to Gloucestershire Care Service Community Interest Company (Social Enterprise) on the 1st October. Councillors were alarmed by the implications of this move and shocked and concerned by its speed.

As representatives of the people of Stroud, we wish to share with your readership our deep concerns.

1.     These proposals constitute the biggest shake-up of the Health Service in Gloucestershire since NHS’s inception, 63 years ago.
2.     We question the effectiveness of having a Social Enterprise, however successful in the context of smaller undertakings, serve 600,000 inhabitants throughout Gloucestershire.   
3.     Under the rules of the transfer, the Social Enterprise must make a profit and its contract lasts for only 3 years. This is far too short a period to create a viable operation and it will be vulnerable to takeover by a private provider at the end of three years. The private sector already has a massive profit-making presence within healthcare in this country, mainly providing more simple procedures whilst leaving the NHS with complicated and expensive cases. 
4.     This plan takes 3000 health workers across Gloucestershire out of the NHS. Though they have been assured that their terms and conditions will not be damaged in the immediate future, serious questions remain about the medium to long term.
5.     The consultation process was wholly inadequate with only 127 people being consulted and no information available on how they were selected. Few people we speak to are aware of the proposed changes - we would be surprised if 10% realised the full implications. Staff members were consulted only about the Social Enterprise, not about whether they wished to stay within the NHS.
6.     The County Council has the right and duty to scrutinise changes in health care provision. However, NHS Gloucestershire, at an informal meeting, persuaded the County Council that these massive changes need no examination since they will not substantially affect services. We are far from convinced of this; local doctors report that already cuts to Stroud Hospital’s operations programmes are under discussion.

Councillors voted unanimously against the proposals, adamant that the NHS in Gloucestershire should continue to be a full health provider and not a service buyer.
We have therefore written to the County Council urging them to undertake a major examination of the business plan and the potential consequences for our health services.

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