Question time Social enterprise: what will it mean for you?

NHS community staff have been facing uncertainty over who will employ them in future. Frontline reports



Many community health staff in England have been concerned that they may be forced to leave the NHS, following proposals to change the way community-based services are delivered.

From April 2011, all PCTs should have separated the commissioning and provision of community services.

For many staff it has meant enormous uncertainty. It has, however, recently emerged that more than 80% of community health services will stay in the NHS, either by merging with a neighbouring acute or community trust, or by applying to become a community foundation trust.

However 10 per cent of services have been earmarked to become social enterprise companies.

Lesley Mercer, CSP director of employment relations and union services, said: ‘The high proportion of services set to stay in the NHS reflects the hard lobbying by the society and other health organisations to ensure members have a genunie say in the future of their own services.

‘But the CSP remains concerned that, in some cases decisions to outsource to social enterprise companies are being pushed through without staff buy-in. Where members in these situations want to continue to campaign, the CSP will support them.’

If I move to a new social enterprise will I still be an NHS employee?
No. You won’t be.

If I thought social enterprises were supposed to be staff-led and backed?
They are. Your trust needs to consult properly, such as through a staff ballot. Make sure you attend any trust communication events and keep in contact with your CSP steward.

My PCT is becoming a social enterprise company. What will happen to my NHS pension?
Check whether the social enterprise company can access the NHS Pension scheme. If it can, check whether there are circumstances, such as taking on non-NHS work once you are working for your new employer, or being promoted, where you will no longer be able to be an active member of the NHS scheme. New starters will not have access to the NHS scheme.

What happens if the social enterprise company folds?
Any business venture is risky - there was a 47% rise in insolvencies for companies supplying to the UK public sector in the first half of 2010. Under the government’s ‘any willing providers’ plans, social enterprise companies will not in the future have any guaranteed level of income or activity. If your employer goes into liquidation you will only receive statutory redundancy. Your post may also be at risk if your social enterprise company is taken over by an independent provider.

Will my new employer maintain existing commitments on training and development after transfer?
While the social enterprise is providing NHS-funded services they will be expected to demonstrate that staff have training and access to CPD appropriate to their role. However this does not mean you will have the same access as now. Get training needs agreement incorporated into the contract or staff handbook as a contractual term prior to any transfer.

I am told I will going into a social enterprise company but not to worry as my terms and conditions will transfer.
Your terms and conditions will be safe at the point of transfer  unless there is an Economic, Technical or Organisational (ETO) reason which does allow employers to make changes. But they may be changed later. If you are transferred to a social enterprise company and continue to work for NHS funded services, this will count as continuous service if you later return to direct NHS employment. If you take on non-NHS work there is a risk you will move on to worse conditions. Also, there are no guarantees that you will receive future improvements in pay, terms and conditions negotiated for NHS employees.

We were told we had to choose between an open tender or a social enterprise company.
I thought there was a wider range of options, including merger with an NHS acute trust and community foundation trust?
That’s right. Your PCT must look at all the options available, make reasonable judgements about the best options for ongoing service provision to patients in their area, and be able to justify that decision.

I have been told staff transeferring to a social enterprise company will be empowered to deliver a better service for our patients. Is this true?
There are currently few examples of social enterprise companies in the health sector and little evidence that they deliver better care than NHS-run services. If promises are being made about staff empowerment your steward will need to make sure that there are clear and unambiguous agreements about how this will work in practice and how this will be incorporated into any future agreements.

For more information see:

Case History

Physios in Devon thwart social enterprise plans

CSP members and staff side colleagues in Devon managed to head off unpopular management proposals last year to move away from the NHS by creating a social enterprise company (SEC).  Senior management at NHS Devon decided to drop their plans last year following a highly successful joint union campaign involving CSP steward Melody Schultz and other staff.
Melody Schultz says: ‘We made the decision to campaign in the belief that this was supposed to be staff-led and it wasn’t: it was management-led. A lot of staff said they had not been properly consulted and didn’t believe that the patient – who is at the heart of this – would have the best care.’

There was an overwhelming response to the campaign, she says, and adds: ‘Staff were worried about having to leave the NHS. They were worried about the security of their terms and conditions and pensions and felt they didn’t want to be railroaded.’

Many employees signed a petition opposing the plans and prepared to lobby the meeting, armed with 150 placards.

But management at NHS Devon reversed the decision to propose creation of a social enterprise company before their board meeting, asking campaigners to withdraw and call off the media. 

The staff are now housed on an interim basis by surrounding NHS organisations for up to two years and will be TUPE’d across, says Melody Schultz.  She says: ‘Staff are very grateful because this has bought us time to consider all options fully and also to await information on how other SECs are performing.’

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