• Unite staff at York Teaching Hospitals vote in favour of strike action
  • Union pledges to get staff to campaign against creation of wholly owned subsidiary companies
  • DHSC says it is up to trusts to decide whether to set up subsidiary companies

NHS trusts looking to create wholly owned subsidiary companies to secure VAT savings risk facing action by union members with strike action already planned at one trust.

Unite staff at York University Hospitals Trust will strike for 48 hours from 27 to 29 September, with 92 per cent of almost 200 members voting in favour of strike action over the trust’s plan to create a subsidiary company.

Unite said it was concerned trusts were forming wholly owned subsidiary companies in England so they can register for a VAT exemption and “compete on a level playing field with commercial competitors”.

Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, Unite national officer for health, told HSJ the union was trying to get staff, alongside other unions, to campaign against the creation of wholly owned subsidiary companies, because they are “not the solution to the under investment in the NHS over the past eight years”.

“We wrote to the secretary of state to ask him to close the loophole that helps wholly owned subsidiary companies to reclaim the VAT. We don’t think any NHS trusts should be able to form them,” Mr Jarrett-Thorpe said.

Unite lead officer for health in Yorkshire Chris Daly said: “The vote showed that our members wish to remain delivering vital public services – they are not prepared to let that public sector ethos slip away.

“If there is an emergency during the week of industrial action, our members will, of course, respond in a responsible fashion and put patient safety first,” Mr Daly said.

A spokeswoman for York Teaching Hospital Foundation Trust said: “We recognise that staff have the right to voice their concerns in this way. We will be working with our staff to ensure we continue to provide safe care for our patients during industrial action.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told HSJ it is up to trusts to decide what the most appropriate structures are to deliver the services they think are best for patients and staff locally.

“This can include the setting up of subsidiary companies where there are sound operational advantages to doing so,” the spokesman said.

However, HSJ revealed in July that the DHSC and NHS Improvement are planning to launch a consultation about wholly owned subsidiary companies in the NHS, amid a drive to gain stronger “central oversight” of how and why trusts establish them.

University Hospitals of Leicester and the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust both backed down on plans to create subsidiary companies earlier this year.

Leicester dropped its plans to set up the company after being told by NHS Improvement that the new health and social care secretary Matt Hancock would be unlikely to approve it.

HSJ reported last week that Unite staff at East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust would also strike from 24-28 September in protest at plans to transfer their jobs to a subsidiary company.