A decision on the controversial new firm which has been at the centre of a bitter row for weeks will be made today.
The board of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust will this afternoon have to decide whether or not to back the wholly-owned company WWL Solutions.
However, the crucial verdict is being delivered in a fever-pitch atmosphere with staff on strike today, five days of industrial action starting tomorrow and huge opposition to the plan among MPs and leading councillors.
Trust bosses want to move almost 900 estates and facilities employees, including porters, cleaners, caterers, transport workers and switchboard operators, to the new firm which is along the lines of a model introduced in Gateshead.
WWL says this would allow it to meet the savings targets which the Government uses to determine NHS funding levels while keeping staff at least partly in the health service and allowing it to compete for more business on level terms with the private sector.
However, the opposition, made up of many of the affected workers supported by unions and politicians, fear working rights and conditions will be eroded and the move marks the first step towards a two-tier NHS workforce and ultimately more privatisation.
The board today faces four options to help the estates and facilities department contribute its share of the savings the hospitals have to make.
These are: putting services out to private tender, creating WWL Solutions, a suggestion from Unison to explore options including natural wastage, vacancy moratoriums and a package of other money-saving measures, or keeping the status quo.
A decision is expected to be made by mid-afternoon and WWL chief executive Andrew Foster has made no secret that WWL Solutions is his preferred option.
Mr Foster said: “The option of real privatisation is only on there for the sake of completeness - we’re not going to go for that.
“Then there’s going ahead with WWL Solutions. We have a high level of confidence that will deliver savings but also give the opportunity to grow through new business.
“There’s the proposal from Unison but I think there are several problems with it.
“Finally, there’s do nothing, but that brings up the problem of not making savings and ending up in special measures with all the consequences.”
Whatever decision the board makes they will be left in little doubt what many of the employees who will end up as WWL Solutions staff if it goes ahead think of the move.
Unite is organising a vocal protest at the Plantation Gates on Wigan Lane close to Trust HQ while the board meeting is going on and its members are on strike today.
More staff will then walk out at 6am tomorrow and not return to work until the same time on Tuesday July 3.
Picket lines will be in place on Thursday, Friday and Monday, while on Saturday around 40 people from the borough will travel to London for a national demonstration to protect the NHS.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis will visit the picket line on Thursday morning and yesterday wrote to senior WWL figures asking for a decision to be deferred, outlining the union’s concerns.
Unison regional organiser Lizanne Devonport said: “The Trust has not provided a full business case for the consideration of the board and we believe that the reliance on a tax loophole to achieve savings is unsafe and contrary to advice from the Department of Health.
“We are calling on the board to defer the decision to move ahead with WWL Solutions until such time as they have undertaken proper scrutiny of the plans.”
Among the morning protesters was Unite member Jimmy McCarrick, who is at Wigan Infirmary for an MRI scan but still wanted to head out to the front in his dressing gown to show his support.
Mr McCarrick, from Kitt Green, said: "We need to fight for the NHS and keep it in public hands, it's as simple as that."