Key London NHS trust to directly employ 1,000 services workers

St Mary's Hospital
Photo: Shutterstock

Facilities and catering workers at one of the UK’s largest NHS trusts are set for a substantial pay rise and better pensions as they are brought in-house, ending their employment with an outsourcing firm.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust in London decided on Wednesday (29 January) to directly employ 1,000 outsourced workers across five hospitals; some 200 of whom began a series of strikes and demonstrations in October.

The staff who provide “hotel services” will manage the workers directly when the current outsourcing contract runs out on 31 March. However, the trust said it would monitor the changes for a year and could re-tender the services contract, with better conditions for workers, in 2021.

The striking staff, all of whom are migrants, are employed by Sodexo at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington and have been demanding parity in pay and working conditions with NHS-employed staff at the trust. Many were until recently paid an hourly rate of £8.21 – the minimum wage – with those under 25 being paid £7.70 or just £6.15 an hour according to age.

In November, said the trust, half of the hotel services staff had moved to London Living Wage rates (£10.55 per hour) with the remainder already on improved terms and conditions as they had been TUPE transferred on NHS terms.

All pay for the workers would now be harmonised at £11.28 (including high cost area supplement) from 1 April. All staff will now be eligible for paid sick leave from the first day of absence.

Under the Sodexo contract about half of the workers were paid up to £10,000 a year less than NHS staff under the Agenda for Change pay scale, UVW said. Equivalent (Band 1, 2) NHS-employed workers in London are paid between £21,000 and £23,000 per year.

UVW co-founder Petros Elia said the trust’s decision “set a historic precedent which we hope other workers will follow in demanding an end to outsourcing across the NHS”.

He added that it was also a victory for patients because studies showed that “hospitals that outsource their ancillary staff have higher incidences of infections, including MRSA, and patient complaints are higher when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness.”

The decision to bring the staff in-house was announced on the same day that UVW members had threatened to start an indefinite strike.

Imperial College Healthcare trust said the decision was taken despite the costs, benefits and risks being sufficiently understood. It will evaluate the changes after a year to decide whether to continue to directly employing the staff or re-tendering the contract with a “significantly amended specification”.

The trust’s chief executive, Professor Tim Orchard, said: “We went into the hotel services contract re-tendering process knowing we wanted significant improvements in quality and for our cleaners, porters and catering staff to feel properly valued and part of our wider team. We thought we could achieve that through a new contract but it became apparent that our amended specification was not enough.”

He said that the trust looked forward to unlocking “the benefits of better team working, more co-ordinated planning and improved quality”. “Insourcing” specialist Retearn has been appointed to support the trust with the changes ahead.

Many doctors supported the cleaners, caterers and porters with 50 at St Mary’s signing an open letter backing them. Signatory Tom Gardiner said: “We stand together with a shared dream of an NHS that is both a world-class health service and a world-class employer.”

This article was amended on 5 February 2020 following feedback from Sodexo.

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