Unions representing 70 NHS employees working Catering, Logistics and Patient Services at Hinchingbrooke Hospital are in dispute with NW Anglia NHS Foundation Trust which has put these services out to private tender. The outsourcing move is a delayed consequence of the merger of the former Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Trust with Hinchingbrooke Hospital, where despite the period under management from Circle, key services remained in-house.

UNISON and Unite have pointed out that the move to outsource Hinchingbrooke’s multi-award winning catering department puts the Trusts at odds with other top-performing hospitals and with the stated views of Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The Trust wants to combine Hinchingbrooke’s catering, cleaning, portering and other support staff with around 100 facilities staff already outsourced to three different firms at its other hospital sites in Peterborough and Stamford, and award a single private contract.

However the attack on Hinchingbrooke’s highly successful catering department, which freshly cooks meals for patients and staff from locally sourced ingredients, and the plan to hand the contract to a private company reliant on bulk-processed cook-chill food from central depots, is sharply at odds with a drive announced last year by Health Secretary Matt Hancock towards bringing hospital catering back in-house to improve standards.

In the aftermath of the tragic deaths from listeria last summer of NHS hospital patients across England after eating food from a private supplier, Hancock said:

“Dozens of hospital trusts have brought their catering in-house and found that they get better quality food that is more likely to be locally produced and is better value for money. We will be examining that model closely, because I am very attracted to it, and it has the potential to reduce the risk of safety concerns such as this.”

But while Hancock has gone on to reaffirm his preference for hospitals to serve freshly cooked food prepared on site, and in January in a blaze of publicity opened a brand new £3m hospital facility to cook fresh means in Chichester’s St Richard’s Hospital, NW Anglia bosses are intent upon eliminating the last remnants of quality catering in the trust.

The plan is a triumph of ideology over evidence, since any claims that privatisation might lower costs or increase efficiency are undermined by the latest official NHS figures that show that the cost per patient meal is significantly HIGHER for supplying bulk-processed food from the privately-run re-heating facilities in Peterborough Hospital (averaging £5.33 per patient meal) than it is from the professionally-run in-house kitchens preparing fresh food in Hinchingbrooke (averaging £3.64).

The logic behind the perverse decision to put multi-award winning catering services and logistics services out for tender, when the food delivered to patients in Hinchingbrooke is 46% cheaper as well as superior in quality, is unclear.

The unions point out that no business case has been produced to show what NW Anglia management might hope to achieve from this apparently irrational initiative, and despite misleading claims in the local press by the Trust’s chief operating officer, there has been minimal consultation with the unions – and no prior engagement with the staff whose jobs, and terms and conditions of employment are at risk.

It is remarkable that – even as the Trust invites bids from private companies wishing to run the services for profit – its HR department were unable to supply any answers to questions about the Key Performance Indicators applying to the existing outsourced contracts, or indeed the KPIs for the new contract that companies are now being invited to tender for.

Clearly for the Estates department which is leading this ignominious charge towards outsourcing the answer is “privatisation” whatever the question and regardless of the evidence.

Catering staff at Hinchingbrooke have written a powerful letter to Matt Hancock asking him to intervene to prevent a downgrade of services and the unions have also written to all four local MPs to highlight their concerns as well as local councillors.

The unions have also  launched a petition calling for all North West Anglia NHS staff to be employed in house, not by private profiteers.


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