End of NHS strike is hailed but questions remain over details

Wigan Council leader Coun David Molyneux
Wigan Council leader Coun David Molyneux
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The sudden deal brokered by Wigan Council to end the borough’s NHS dispute has been welcomed but questions over details still remain.

The town hall dramatically stepped in to offer financial support to the borough’s hospitals in return for subsidiary company WWL Solutions being scrapped.

Related: Bitter wrangles and strikes in health issue which lasted months

Specific information about the plan is emerging slowly but it is understood the local authority will stump up at least the £1.5m the estates and facilities department has to find in savings in 2018-19.

The council is expecting Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust to use the cash to invest long-term in services in order to stave off any future financial difficulties.

The proposal has been warmly welcomed by the authorities after weeks of bitter wrangling and strike action, while MPs who backed employees on the picket lines are delighted WWL Solutions has been consigned to history.

WWL chief executive Andrew Foster said bringing the dispute to an end was a crucial achievement and announced he is to start working on the finer points of the council deal.

However, acclaim has not been universal, with several Wiganers getting in touch confused about what the plan might mean or openly against taxpayers’ money being used.

Wigan Council leader Coun David Molyneux said: “Thanks to the success of The Deal over the years, the council is in a much better financial position and as a result, we are able to work more closely with partners through the Healthier Wigan Partnership to improve health standards and reduce demand on services.

“In line with the Greater Manchester health work, the council and WWL can jointly invest in community services to develop a model that can balance the health budget.

“The total amount is yet to be agreed but it is in the region of £2m and will help the hospital to invest in transforming services, resulting in future savings.

“This has been a difficult period for all involved including staff and patients.

“We look forward to everyone now working together for the benefit of our residents and the care they receive.”

Mr Foster was also upbeat but his statement made it clear there is still a lot to do, with the NHS still having to look closely at cost-cutting.

He said: "A very important step forward took place on Friday, and has been warmly welcomed by all parties.

“We are now working through the finer details of implementing the decision with Wigan Council and will provide more information in due course.

“At WWL NHS Foundation Trust, we are confident this will further strengthen our working relationships within the Healthier Wigan Partnership and allow us to continue to provide the best possible care for our patients.

“Whilst the council funding is very welcome, as a Trust we still need to deliver significant savings within estates and facilities.

“We will be working closely with trade unions in the coming weeks to identify how these savings can be achieved.”

Former Labour MP for Wigan Neil Turner, who was set to be chairman of WWL Solutions, said the deal needs to solve the Trust’s financial issues.

Mr Turner said: “The problems were about money and the fact that there was a big gap between what the Trust had and what it needed to do.

“When it came down to it there were two solutions: more money or job losses on quite a dramatic scale which would have affected patient care.

“The Trust and myself didn’t want to lose jobs. It’s not in my nature to get people sacked or reduce jobs.

“If the council has come up with money to bridge that gap then that’s excellent.

“Jobs will stay, patient care will be maintained and the NHS will continue. It sounds like a win-win all round.

“I’m a bit disappointed this didn’t happen earlier so we didn’t have to go through all of this.”

Trade union Unison, which has played a key role in the industrial action, said the decision to withdraw WWL Solutions was welcome and it was looking forward to working with WWL and the council going forward.

Unite also brought an end to its dispute with the Trust on Wednesday July 11.

The council’s deal received a positive reaction from MPs who were strongly against WWL Solutions.

Makerfield parliamentary representative Yvonne Fovargue said: “The move to outsource NHS jobs was a response to the financial situation that many

NHS Trusts face after years of underfunding to our NHS by this current Government. Nonetheless the decision taken by the NHS Trust was wrong and that is why NHS staff had no recourse but to take strike action.

“I am very pleased that sense has prevailed and welcome the intervention of the council’s new leadership to broker a deal to keep these important jobs in the NHS family.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy recently said: “It has been a long hard battle for the staff who are proud to work for the NHS and were brave and right to oppose these plans.

“We now need to move forwards to repair relationships and ensure our local NHS continues to deliver good-quality care for people across

Wigan.

Acclaim for the new plan has not been universal with the town hall’s involvement after itself making many budget cuts raising eyebrows.

One Wiganer said: “Why should we use council tax money to bail out the NHS? It’s just plain wrong.”

It has also been suggested that the workforce in the borough’s hospitals may still be trimmed at some point.

A letter sent to staff following the council’s intervention which has circulated on Twitter said the Trust’s discussions with unions on reaching needed savings “will likely mean changes to working practices, service reviews and a reduced number of staff delivering the services, with staff not being replaced when they leave.”

Unison had previously proposed looking into natural wastage, potentially for up to 100 roles, as an alternative to setting up WWL Solutions.