More than 2,000 people have now signed a petition opposing the privatisation of NHS staff at Wrexham and Welshpool's dialysis units. This column by Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM, explains the background:
Next week, we will be celebrating the NHS’s 70th birthday. Despite the well-publicised problems our health service faces, it is still a treasured institution and provides a wonderful service for the vast majority of people.
It now faces new challenges and locally they come from an unexpected quarter.
For the past six months, I and my Plaid Cymru colleagues have been working with NHS staff in Wrexham and Welshpool who fear their jobs could be privatised.
The renal units at both hospitals are run by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board and it has put the services out to tender.
The two shortlisted options currently on the table include the option to allow a private company to run the units and transfer the existing staff from the NHS to the private sector. This would be the first documented case of NHS staff in Wales being privatised in this way and has, naturally, caused anxiety and concern among staff and trade unions.
Questions to the health secretary and First Minister by myself and colleagues have raised awareness that this process was ongoing. This, in itself, was surprising given that BCUHB has been directly run by the Welsh Government for the past three years. It is inconceivable that such a critical decision woud have happened without political approval and, indeed, BCUHB’s chief executive confirmed to me that the proposal had ‘Welsh ministerial backing’.
Staff have also sought reassurances and have been told by Government ministers that “we will not support the transfer of staff between the NHS and independent renal services providers” and “Staff terms and conditions will be protected”.
There is, however, nothing to that staff will remain as NHS employees after the tender process is complete. After six months of uncertainty, staff have now written to the First Minister asking for that assurance.
It’s not too much to ask is it?
These are dedicated and highly skilled nurses providing a specialist service for dialysis patients among others. They have not been involved in the process that could see them moved to the private sector, patients have not been consulted and the whole thing has been swept under the carpet by ministers and health board managers alike. Nurses say they feel stressed, demoralised and undervalued by the whole process.
Despite all the promises by politicians, one of the two options on the table would see Wrexham staff transfer to a private company. In Welshpool’s case, both options mean staff being privatised.
Throughout this process, I have sought clarity from politicians and health board officers on behalf of those most directly affected. Now that the decision is imminent, it’s vital that everybody who values our NHS stands up to have their say about this dangerous development - this is privatisation by the back-door and will see the likes of Virgin Health and other large corporations creep ever further into our NHS.
We can never take our NHS for granted. It’s clear that the direction of travel in England under the Tories is for a fragmented and privatised NHS. The decision taken this summer by BCUHB may see Wales start to go down the same route under Labour.
• The nurses’ petition – now more than 2,000 strong – can be signed at