Mental health trust proposed hiring workers in low-wage countries to talk to patients over Skype

PUBLISHED: 10:09 31 January 2015 | UPDATED: 08:33 02 February 2015

Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith.

Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith.

Archant © 2012

The region’s mental health trust could become part-owned by staff in a bid to improve NHS workers’ morale.

A half-way house to privatisation?

Care minister Norman Lamb denied yesterday that mutuals were a step to privatisation, after campaigners claimed the NSFT could leave the NHS.

“It is about giving staff more of a say and more control over their organisation,” he said. “The evidence we have from mutuals are of a very well-run organisations.”

NSFT chairman Gary Page said the trust was only investigating mutualisation “as a way to increase staff engagement levels”.

But a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, which put in the Freedom of Information request, said: “Staff are up in arms about this. It is such a major change.”

But in a move which has done nothing for staff morale the trust suggested employing workers in low wage countries to talk to mental health patients over Skype, in its application to secure government funding to research the project.

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital were chosen as two of nine trusts in the country to look at a new model of staff ownership in November called “mutualisation”.

It would mean the two NHS providers would no longer be Foundation Trusts and be owned by different stakeholders, including staff.

The NSFT’s full application for government money to explore becoming a mutual has now been released after a Freedom of Information request from campaigners.

The application shows a radical series of proposals which the NSFT denied yesterday it was exploring.

Those proposals included workers in low-wage countries talking to patients on video messenger service Skype and a break up of the trust into eight smaller areas.

But the NSFT said it was only interested in mutuals from a staff engagement perspective.

“I can categorically state that there is absolutely no consideration of our dismantling the trust, or of our providing services remotely from overseas,” chairman Gary Page said. “This early application included a number of highly speculative ideas.”

Unison steward Emma Corlett said: “The staff we have spoken to are very clear – what we need are resources to do our jobs properly.”

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