More than 1,000 nurses due to be transferred to a social enterprise face a further year of uncertainty after the process was halted following a high court challenge.
Although there is now a possibility staff currently employed by NHS Gloucestershire could remain within the NHS, under an agreement between the primary care trust and service user Michael Lloyd, 75, who launched the legal challenge, services could also be put out to competitive tender.
The transfer of staff and services from NHS Gloucestershire to Gloucester Care Services, a specially created social enterprise, has been on hold since Gloucestershire resident Mr Lloyd launched a legal challenge in September.
Lawyers for Mr Lloyd argued the PCT had acted unlawfully by approving the transfer of the community services to a social enterprise without giving other organisations an opportunity to bid for the services.
Mr Lloyd, supported by campaign group Stroud Against The Cuts, claimed this had removed the opportunity for the services to remain within the NHS.
The case, which Mr Lloyd received legal aid to fight, had been scheduled to last two days. However, before the PCT had made its case it was announced the two parties had reached an agreement to “settle” the case.
Under the terms of the agreement the PCT will now advertise for expressions of interest for the provision of NHS services in Gloucestershire before deciding whether to enter into “arrangements with another NHS body” or whether its preferred option is for the provision of services through a “different arrangement”. This could still include a social enterprise or a private sector organisation.
Unison regional manager and former nurse Tanya Palmer told Nursing Times this had left staff “anxious” and facing at least another year of uncertainty.
“There is no guarantee under this approach that the services won’t be separated. Staff are anxious upset and worried, not only for themselves but for their patients and services.
“Staff clearly said they wanted to stay in the NHS but they were ignored [by NHS Gloucestershire management].”
The court heard that staff had been told staying in the NHS was not an option and that public consultation had been minimal.
Under the new agreement, the PCT has also committed to ensuring “appropriate” levels of staff and public engagement in future plans. Staff will continue to be employed by the PCT while this process is followed.