Analysis Breaking

Unpaid staff strike and others recklessly exposed as coronavirus uncovers damage of NHS privatisation and fragmentation

Cleaners and other unpaid staff strike in virus-hit hospital and staff denied protective equipment – or not even informed when handling infected patients

Cleaning, portering and catering staff at Lewisham Hospital – where Coronavirus cases have been treated – have walked out after private contractor ISS failed to pay wages owed to them.

Furious workers stormed off the job during a row with the company. Now the hospital’s reliance on outsourcing risks leaving wards uncleaned and meals not being served.

GMB union organiser Helen O’Connor explained the impact of the pay failure on low-paid staff:

For many of these workers missing just one pay cheque means not being able to pay the rent, or put food on their families’ tables.

They are at the end of their tether following weeks of their pay being short – now today they get no pay at all.

This could not have happened at a worse time – we are facing a coronavirus pandemic and infected patients are now being admitted into the hospital. Meanwhile the people who are meant to be keeping the hospital clean and safe are not getting paid.

Once again the dangers of outsourcing in the NHS are laid bare for all to see.

Meanwhile at other trusts in London, health workers are being exposed to coronavirus patients without advice, training, protective clothing or hand sanitisers.

And in at least one case, a porter is being tested after moving an infected patient – when the hospital had not informed him that the patient had already tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Non-emergency patient transport drivers working for HATS group at Croydon NHS, St George’s NHS and Kingston NHS say they were asked to drive a vehicle potentially contaminated with COVID-19 – and that their concerns over the risk of infection were dismissed by management as ‘fake news’.

And at Epsom and St Helier trust in Sutton, a hospital ancillary worker is anxiously for test results after unwittingly moving an infected patient. He had not been told that the patient was confirmed as infected. The patient subsequently died.

O’Connor said:

Hospitals are going to be the focal point for those with coronavirus, so our members are most at risk of becoming infected.

The reports we are getting from members are unbelievable.

GMB Union is pushing hard to ensure NHS workers outsourced to contractors like Mitie and HATs group are getting the support and the resources they need to protect themselves – and don’t unwittingly spread the virus both inside and outside the hospital.

We want all hospital staff to feel confident in supporting patients with the virus – but they must be provided with the training and specialist PPE they need to protect themselves, patients and the public.

The anger amongst our NHS members is growing and they are calling for immediate action and resources to deal with the risks they face or they will not come into work.


Fragmentation and privatisation have been used for years by the Tories to weaken the NHS and prepare it for a carve-up among the Conservatives’ corporate backers.

Now the UK’s workers and all its people are about to find out how badly weakened our health service is as the coronavirus epidemic takes in the government’s plan to allow the virus to run its course at a cost of a million lives or more.

The experience of workers in Sutton and Lewisham are horrendous, but they are just the beginning of the horror show that the situation in Italy shows awaits the country – and the Tories will be to blame at every level of the disaster.

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  1. Do we know what the situation is with private hospitals? Will they be required to limit elective surgery,cross specialities and treat emergency admissions.? If so will they be handsomely remunerated by the government? Will agency staff still be allowed to work across any number of wards and hospitals thus massively increasing the risk of cross infection? Your story above highlights how a long period of changing the NHS to a seri s of Trusts run by accountants rather than clinicians has bought a great institution to its knees,aided of course by a media only to happy to highlight failings and portray the staff ,they are now calling heroes,as lazy and uncaring.

  2. Casualisation of Labour aka outsourcing……..part of Thatcher’s economic recipe for a ‘flexible’ workforce, but never challenged, nor prevented in all the years of Blair & Brown. I wonder if Starmer would be any different?

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