Health campaigners have condemned an NHS trust for asking its staff to resign, work for no pay or take unpaid leave in order to reduce its multimillion-pound deficit.
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, which reported a £16. 7m deficit last year, has sent staff a letter asking them to work unpaid for a day, take six months unpaid leave, take voluntary redundancy or defer taking five days of their holiday until next year to help balance its books.
The trust says “just one extra day of work without additional pay as a voluntary contribution” would help to avoid “significant job losses”. The trust is predicted to be £5m at the end of the financial year in March.
The move has further angered health campaigners because it would also enable the trust to sign a deal under the controversial private finance initiative (PFI).
Under the initiative, private firms raise the money to design and build a hospital, which NHS trusts must then pay back with interest over 20 to 30 years. The Conservatives say the eventual repayments for the existing 83 PFI hospital building projects - worth £8bn - would total £53bn.
A spokeswoman for the UK’s largest public sector union, Unison, said the trust’s request was “disgraceful”.
She said: “It is unbelievable to expect nurses and other low-paid health professionals to work for nothing. Why should they be penalised for providing a good service when the deficits are the fault of mismanagement?
“It’s particularly galling when the trust wants to finance a PFI deal that will end up costing taxpayers more money.” The leaked memo, issued to all staff by the director of human resources Terry Coode, said the trust was “facing a very significant challenge this year”.
It added: “To be unsuccessful in our target will have serious consequences for the trust that will affect us all. It will jeopardise our investment and development plans, including our ability to build the PFI.”
The letter sets out how job losses can be avoided, including “inviting enquiries about the possibility of voluntary redundancy”. It also offers staff the chance to take a six-month unpaid break “to pursue a personal ambition or just to take a well-earned break”.
Staff would be able to return to their original jobs or one in a similar position, it added. The letter also encouraged staff to carry forward five days’ holiday to the next year to “help avoid additional costs this year”.
It said: “We are also asking staff to contribute just one extra day without additional pay as a voluntary contribution to year-end.
“This would further help displace some bank and agency (costs) and increase our opportunity to have additional income.”
Geoff Martin, head of campaigns at the group Health Emergency, said: “This slaps the nut on the government’s health care policy.
“Nurses and other members of the healthcare team are called on to work for nothing so that speculators and banks can cream off another fat profit from an NHS PFI scheme.
“This is Robin Hood in reverse, robbing the poor to fill the pockets of the rich. And it’s happening right under the noses of a Labour government who are ripping the heart out of the NHS.”
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said staff were being asked to work a day unpaid on an entirely voluntary basis.
In a statement, it said: “Our staff have suggested this idea to help reduce agency use as part of plans to stay within our budgets. This informal request was extended to all staff, and we’ve had doctors offering to work extra hours for free. This is not about saving our PFI, but getting our finances right.”