Nurses have been advised to be “proactive” during takeovers of NHS services or risk seeing jobs lost or downgraded and the quality of services fall.
The warning came from the Royal College of Nursing in the north of England where nurses had experienced “nasty surprises” when transferring to private providers, according to regional officer Jake Turnbull.
Problems had occurred despite transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) (TUPE) rules designed to protect staff in such situations, he said.
The union said staff were hit when an out-of-hours service in North Tees and Hartlepool was taken over in April by the firm Northern Doctors Urgent Care.
The take-over led to two nurse consultants resigning, claiming they “were downgraded to practice nurse roles” and were no longer allowed to diagnose, triage and prescribe alone, according to the RCN.
“The doctors said they would not work with nurse consultants,” said fellow RCN officer Sandra Bullock. “After [Northern Doctors] won the tender, they said the roles for certain staff would be completely different.”
Elsewhere in the region, Care UK placed around 20 per cent of the workforce in a prison health care service in the north east at risk of redundancy a week after winning a contract. Following pressure from campaigners including the RCN the firm announced there would be no compulsory redundancies.
Mr Turnbull said the union had successfully gained assurances from local primary care trusts that “quality not price” would drive successful bids to run services in future. But he warned nurses had “got to be proactive”, using tools like the Freedom of Information Act and “stern” correspondence with managers to obtain information about contracts.
“Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of how much they are prepared to share with you,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Northern Doctors Urgent Care said the company could not comment on individual cases, but added: “The new contract stated that patients were required to be provided with care by qualified GPs and a full consultation programme was undertaken with all parties under the TUPE.”