The Care Quality Commission is heading for clashes with unions before it has even launched.

With just over a month until the commission absorbs the three health and social care watchdogs, around 300 staff are still in the dark about their fate.

The CQC was due to meet with five unions yesterday to discuss this and the 400 planned redundancies involving staff at the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and Mental Health Act Commission.

It is also dealing with 20 appeals from staff unhappy with decisions regarding their jobs.

Red risk

The figures come two weeks after the Healthcare Commission identified the regulation handover as a "red risk", with basic decisions involving estates and records management unresolved.

Rose Willis, negotiating officer for trade union Prospect, said the CQC's staffing plans were three months behind schedule.

She said: "We've known about this for such a long time and we offered to sit down right from the start. It's been pathetic."

The fact there is still no formal pay structure could lead to an industrial dispute, she said.

Changing job descriptions

Staff have told HSJ that job descriptions have been changing as people have been preparing for interviews, forcing some people to be re-interviewed.

In addition, many are "disgusted" that despite plans to rationalise the CQC's estates to cut costs and create a more streamlined organisation, the regulator is opening a large new office in Newcastle, Ms Willis said.

A programme of office closures is still being finalised, and some of the moves will not be carried out until July.

The Royal College of Nursing, Unite, Unison and the Public and Commercial Services Union are also involved in negotiations.

Anna Walker

The uncertainty follows Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker's admission that she only found out about the redundancy figures after reading HSJ.

This is contrary to an internal memo, sent from CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower to staff at all four commissions in response to HSJ's story, saying the figure had been discussed "at length" at roadshows and with unions.

It says the job losses were a result of the CQC "rationalising" its offices, and that redundancy "will always be the last resort".

A CQC spokesperson said: "People at risk of redundancy will go in to the redeployment pool [and] be supported in looking at opportunities within CQC. Where this is not possible, every effort will be made to find vacancies in government departments and arm's length bodies."

CQC COUNTDOWN

Tasks to be completed by 1 April

  • Recruit operations director, finance and corporate services director and organisational development and human resources director to CQC board

  • Prepare final accounts for disbanded bodies

  • Decommission estates, open registration centre in Newcastle and move to new HQ and regional offices

  • Consult on and confirm proposals for annual health check and areas of investigation for 2009-10

  • Negotiate with unions over redundancies, job transfers and pay

HSJ's Delivering NHS Quality Improvement is on 31 March, www.hsj-quality.com