Kent NHS hospital trust slammed over request to staff to work for free

Health service unions and doctors’ leaders have hit out at a hospital trust in Kent after it asked staff to work for free so as not to add to its £17m debt.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust wrote to staff asking them to contribute a day of unpaid work. A memo also encouraged workers to take unpaid sabbaticals, not claim their full holiday entitlement, and consider voluntary redundancy.

The memo was issued to all staff by HR director Terry Coode. It warned the trust would be unable to build a planned new private finance initiative (PFI) hospital unless it was able to meet its spending targets.

“To be unsuccessful in our target will have serious consequences for the trust that will affect us all,” the memo said. “It will jeopardise our investment and development plans, including our ability to build the PFI.”

A spokeswoman for Amicus said its members felt “insulted”. A Unison spokeswoman added: “Why should nurses be penalised for providing a good service when the deficits are the fault of mismanagement?”

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, described the situation as “unacceptable”.

“Intimidating employees into working for free is no way to run a health service in one of the richest countries in the world,” he said. “Such pressure is likely to lose the limited goodwill left in the health service.”

A trust statement said the suggestions came from an ‘ideas panel’, which asked staff how improvements to services could be made.

A health select committee report in December blamed the current financial crisis in the NHS on mismanagement at all levels – from government to local trusts.

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