• Frimley Health FT agrees not to go ahead with subsidiary while other options explored
  • Decision prompts Unison to call off strike but members from two other unions going ahead
  • Trust has previously said subsidiary would save £45m over five years

An acute trust may abandon its plans to set up a wholly owned subsidiary in the face of union opposition.

Frimley Health Foundation Trust has agreed not to go ahead with the plan for the subsidiary while other options are explored. These other options could see staff remain employed by the NHS.

Members of three unions — Unison, Unite and the GMB — were due to start a 48-hour strike at 7am this morning. However, the trust’s rethink has prompted Unison to call off the strike. Members of the other two unions have gone ahead as planned and are picketing outside hospitals owned by the trust. 

Both Unison and the trust said they have had “productive discussions”. In a statement issued late last night, Unison South East regional secretary Steve Torrance said: “Unison has agreed to postpone the industrial action due to take place this week. This is on the understanding that senior managers at Frimley have agreed to look into alternative solutions, including whether it will be possible to keep the staff employed within the NHS.

“Unison will take no further action for the time being and as a result the trust has agreed not to continue with its existing plans while these other options are pursued.”

Frimley FT said in a statement: “Both sides believe the options have the potential to resolve the current dispute.”

However, the GMB has attacked the “clandestine talks” between Unison and the trust. Gary Palmer, GMB officer said: “GMB originally cautiously welcomed an offer from [the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] to mediate between the combined unions and the trust on options and possible next steps, even though they asked the joint unions to halt the strike whilst actually offering nothing in return other than talks on 21 November.

“What is disappointing is that at the eleventh hour [a] trade union seems to have lost the appetite to defend the NHS from privatisation.

“It’s just a shame that one union would break away to manage a process which is morally wrong for both our NHS and the hardworking staff who face an uncertain future if any deal is imposed.”

Unite said it had not been approached by the trust and would not be willing to enter into talks unless the subsidiary plan was off the table. Regional coordinating officer Debbie Watson said: “Managers could pop out [to the picket line] and say, ‘Could we have a chat?’ The HR director knows what I look like.”

The planned subsidiary would employ nearly 1,000 staff at the trust, including porters, cleaners and catering staff. Frimley FT has said it would save £45m over five years, nearly half of which would come from VAT savings.

Frimley FT has been waiting to hear from NHS Improvement if the plan for a subsidiary can go ahead. A decision was expected this month but may not now come until after the election.