A petition has been launched protesting against the ‘privatisation of York Hospital’s emergency department’.
Anger is mounting towards what York MP Rachael Maskell calls the “ill-conceived and poorly timed” plan to outsource some of the work of the A&E.
According to Ms Maskell, the York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust wants a private company called Vocare to take over aspects of A&E care.
Vocare is a private limited company “wholly owned company by the profit-making company Totally plc” said the York Central MP.
She said previous proposals to do this were put on hold – but the Trust is now pursuing the outsourcing, despite the NHS pressures caused by the Covid crisis, and the linked backlog in appointments.
But the trust says Vocare has been providing care services at the hospital for several years – and the move is about better integration.
An ‘irresponsible’ plan
The Labour MP has written to the Health Secretary, the NHS trust and Vocare about the plan.
People have also been signing her Parliamentary petition to give York residents a say on the proposals.
Ms Maskell said the move was “irresponsible” after “a very difficult year for the NHS and its staff”.
“This plan is ill-conceived and is in the interests of no one except the profit-making company which is to gain from this move.
“Further, a new Government White Paper is seeking to reorganise the NHS, so to embark on a process now, instead of waiting to see the outcome of this process, makes no sense at all.
“It is time that the NHS managers focused on catching up with the backlog of appointments and treatments that thousands of people in York need, rather than disrupting clinical services at this crucial time.”
What the NHS Trust says
Dr James Taylor, medical director for York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Urgent Treatment Centres (UTCs) provide treatment for non-emergency patients, avoiding the need for them to wait in emergency departments when they don’t need to be there.
“This also helps emergency departments to focus on the patients that need more urgent help.
“Vocare is already commissioned by NHS Vale of York CCG to provide the current minor illness service and GP out of hours service, both of which are located in York Hospital alongside the emergency department, which has been the case for several years. The trust provides the minor injury element of the service.
“As NHS guidance on UTCs has evolved over time, there is now a requirement for a more integrated approach to minor illness and minor injury, and to support the ability for patients to be directly booked in to appointments via NHS 111.
“As the two current providers, the trust and Vocare, have agreed to continue to work together to ensure that York has a fully compliant UTC that best meets our patients’ needs.
“UTCs are seen as one of the ways of reducing overcrowding in emergency departments, ensuring that our emergency department staff are available to see the patients with the most urgent need, and that patients are seen in the right place by the right clinical staff.
“We know that staff have raised concerns that there may be plans for their employment to be transferred to Vocare.
“There are no plans to do this. As is the case now, staff employed by the trust will continue to work jointly with Vocare staff to deliver the service, and we are working with Vocare to establish joint governance arrangements.
“The streaming of patients on arrival into the emergency department will continue to be managed by the trust’s clinical staff.
“As well as the existing relationship with York Hospital’s emergency department, Vocare also runs the UTCs at Scarborough Hospital and Malton Hospital, as well as a number of other services on behalf of the NHS.”
Staff ‘very worried’
Keep York Urgent Care Public is a group of staff all working in the A&E Department of York Hospital.
“The executive team of York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has recently agreed, with NHS commissioning colleagues, to potentially allow a portion of the work we currently do in the A&E department (notably around the streaming of patients who attend the A&E department to more appropriate services and in the care of patients with minor injury) to be carried out by Vocare, which is a private, for profit company.,” the group said.
“We wish to inform the public of York about this potential arrangement and indicate our opposition to it.
“For organisations such as Vocare, the ability to make a profit will always be a driver to the care that they provide. We are concerned that this will mean that Vocare will seek to reduce costs in areas such as training for staff, the complexity of the cases they are prepared to see, and the time allowed for each consultation.
“This will mean that the quality of care provided for patients presenting with urgent care needs and with minor injuries to York Hospital will be diminished.”
Staff are also concerned that despite early promises to the contrary, Vocare will eventually take over their contracts of employment and that ultimately, they will no longer work directly for the NHS.