Published: 05/02/2004, Volume II4, No. 5891 Page 26

I write with reference to HSJ's story on the resignation of the First Division Association's NHS committee (news, page 8, 15 January). The FDA has 11,400 members - including 1,100 in the NHS - and very limited resources. In all membership areas except the NHS, elected lay members undertake most of the union's personal and collective representation, with full-time officials responsible for the most difficult grievance cases and bargaining issues.

Unfortunately, there is an imbalance within the NHS section, which has meant that all support for NHS members falls on full-time staff. Consequently, almost one-third of the entire FDA negotiators' time, and the overwhelming bulk of legal costs, are devoted to providing a paralegal service for our NHS members. It is a good service but is not sustainable.

Moreover, FDA and Unison between us represent fewer than 4,000 senior managers. In other words, more than 94 per cent of all senior NHS managers earning at least£35,000 (FDA's remit group) are currently nonunionised. There is a need out there which neither FDA nor Unison has been able to meet.

But together, we believe we can create a unique and innovative vehicle - neither merger nor takeover - that will offer NHS managers high levels of service, employment expertise and a voice in the broader health debate.

In January 2003 - after two years of exploratory talks - the executive committee, which represents all parts of the union, agreed to enter detailed negotiations with Unison. The NHS section committee declined the opportunity to be involved. The committee made clear its opposition to working with Unison but has not, over the period concerned, furnished the union with any considered and sustainable alternative.

We consulted members in September and October. That consultation did not identify the degree of opposition reflected in the views expressed by the former members of the section committee.

The proposal will not force anyone to leave FDA: members will join the partnership, becoming members of Unison as well. Service to members in the NHS will be delivered through the partnership.

The case for taking this forward is based on the needs of the union as a whole, and the decisionmaking processes reflect that.

In taking the decision to proceed with the proposals, the executive committee was fully aware of the section committee's views, but nonetheless voted overwhelmingly to proceed with the partnership.We currently await a decision from Unison's national executive.

We have notified NHS members of the committee members' resignations and will shortly send a fuller paper to all members in the NHS section. It will include a statement of the position taken by the former members of the committee.

Jonathan Baume General secretary FDA

Discussions between Unison and the health managers' section of FDA have been ongoing for three years. At all times, Unison was acutely sensitive to the needs of senior NHS managers.

As a result, the proposed partnership will ensure that no member will pay a political levy, unless they choose to.Unison and FDA have also agreed that fulltime officers of the partnership will report to the FDA general secretary and the partnership will be politically impartial.

When senior managers get into difficulties, the casework is complex, political, time consuming and expensive. The new partnership will allow members to avail themselves of a more accessible support network.

More importantly, the expertise and breadth of Unison in providing access to ministers and the government will offer members far greater potential for influencing policy.

It is regrettable that section committee members have resigned, but it seems they were afforded every opportunity to engage in discussions, but at critical times chose not to.

Ray Rowden NHS adviser FDA