Published: 19/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5823 Page 8

Staff at a pioneering NHS clinical physics department are threatening to quit if the service is transferred to the private sector under the private finance initiative.

Barts and the London trust says it needs to spend£63m on new medical science equipment, including linear accelerators and magnetic resonance imaging machines, when it moves into new and refurbished buildings.

At a briefing presented to the trust's board last month, Steve Saunders, director of capital and facilities, said that the only option was a PFI deal, which would cover maintenance, purchasing new equipment and replacing equipment as it wears out.

He said the trust usually buys equipment from its block capital and donations but it 'generally has insufficient funds to meet all requirements with the result that much of the equipment is beyond its intended life'.

At present the machines are the responsibility of the clinical physics department, which has a staff of 30.

In a briefing document, Mr Saunders acknowledged that the 'general feeling among staff was that a successful bidder would erode NHS conditions over time, the impact on pensions would be adverse, and that the right to work for the NHS was being taken away from them'.

He added: 'This trust has required [PFI] bidders to demonstrate how they would put in place arrangements that allow transferred staff to feel a part of the hospital community.

'However, staff who feel strongly that they only wish to work for the NHS have little option but to leave.

Some clinical physics staff have made it clear that if the trust pursues a managed equipment service within the PFI, they will leave.'

Trust chair Martin Vandersteen said: 'We do have some workforce issues here that need to be handled very carefully.We need to be totally transparent with staff and listen to their concerns.'

Dave Parsons, London regional officer for the Amicus trade union, said staff were worried about conditions and pension arrangements, but also stressed that 'people work for the NHS because they feel that they can make a difference. They could work in the private sector and earn a lot more money but they do not.'

The department was set up more than 60 years ago and pioneered radiotherapy treatment with highpowered x-ray machines. Joseph Rotblat, joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, was professor of medical physics until 1976.