In 2014 UNISON staff working for Substance Misuse Services (SMS) in Brighton called on Brighton and Hove Council to keep their service in the NHS rather than go through the process of tendering, which placed the service at potential risk of privatisation.
SOS SMS: MP & UNISON staff fight to keep drug and alcohol service in the NHS
Receiving backing from Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion, staff pointed to a previous decision by the council to keep Sexual Health Services in the public sector.
This decision was as a result of a little known commissioning regulation which allowed commissioners to award contracts without competition if a service was fulfilling its requirements and was satisfactory. Staff in SMS believed this was the case with their service. They pointed to part of their servcice winning an award for best practice, and the genral positive feedback they had previously recieved from the Council.
"I am totally opposed to private tendering." Caroline Lucas, MP
Supporting the cause, Lucas said “I’d argue that our substance misuse services fall into the category of a range of integrated services delivered in the community. Furthermore, I am totally opposed to private tendering and have urged the Health and Wellbeing Board to do everything in their power to try to keep services out of private hands, as I think this is the surest way to ensure that patients can access high quality, convenient and cost-effective services at all times.”
"Let’s keep these important services run by our community for our community." Nick, Branch Comms Officer
Speaking on behalf of UNISON staff, who work for both Sussex Partnership and Brighton Council, UNISON Sussex Partnership Branch Communications Officer Nick McMaster said “We are appealing to all those members of the public who value the NHS to support our campaign. Not only are we fighting for the best care for our service users, we are fighting to protect the terms and conditions and the pensions of dedicated staff who don’t want to be thrown out to the private sector. Let’s keep these important services run by our community for our community, for the benefit of the taxpayer, not the shareholder.”
Through the support of local campaigning organisation Sussex Defend the NHS, SMS staff collected the minimum 1300 signatures from Brighton and Hove residents that allowed us to present our case to the Policy and Resources Committee of the Council, which were the ultimate decision makers on the fate of the services.
Sadly and in great controversy the Council eventually awarded the contract to Pavilions: a partnership between Cranstoun, a third sector organisation and Surrey and Borders NHS Foundation Trust. The new contract started in April 2015.
In the aftermath of the decision, Nick McMaster said "We are bitterly disappointed about the decison of the Green led Brighton and Hove Council to tender the service out of our local award-winning NHS. This is despite a strong campaign by dedicated members of our UNISON Branch who demonstrated real passion for their principals and their patients.
"The Council ultimately made a great show of the fact that these services were awarded to another Trust, but make no mistake this was still a privatisation process. It just happened to have another NHS provider take the prize. That will not necessarily be the case next time. We strongly believe that our elected representatives should not have the power to collude in the break up of our NHS.
"Our Branch will continue to fight for our communities, our patients and our staff in keeping this vital and treasured organisation in the hands of the public."
Many SMS staff, UNISON members and members of the public were involved in this campaign. However Branch would particularly like to thank the following for their contributions to the campaign: SMS UNISON Steward Jane Parfitt, UNISON Regional Organiser Caroline Fife, Caroline Lucas MP, Councillor Warren Morgan, Davey Jones and our good friends at Sussex Defend the NHS.