From Mark Ladbrooke, of Oxford SHA branch, and formerly chair of Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust (OUHT) Joint Union Committee

Oscar King, Jr. and Elbert Rico, porters at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and union activists, died two weeks ago of suspected Covid-19.

Both of them are married to members of the nursing team at the hospital and Twilight, Oscar’s wife, was admitted to hospital, while their 10-year old daughter is being cared for. Oscar and Rico came from the Philippines and had worked at the hospital since they arrived.
The Filipino community is extremely important to the NHS – after workers from the UK itself and India they make up the largest proportion of the workforce.

Patients may not notice the porters as much as they notice doctors and nurses, but their role is just as vital, since they take everyone where they need to go, and move equipment and machinery to where it is required. The Labour Movement has supported junior doctors and nurses in dispute with management (backed by government) at various times – but porters, domestics and catering staff are frequently outsourced and are at the end of the queue.

As long ago as 1982 the Thatcher government brought in competitive tendering for NHS services such as catering, cleaning, portering and estates maintenance. Oxford University Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust (OUHT), of which the Radcliffe is part, signed up to a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal, under which management of the porters, domestics and catering staff was transferred to a private company as the hospital was expanded. PFI was dreamed up when Norman Lamont was Tory Chancellor, but took off under the New Labour Government of Tony Blair after 1997.

A Unison strike in Dudley in 2000 was the seventh against transfer to the private sector, as part of increasing resistance to PFI. The striking workers won important concessions around secondment, nevertheless management was still transferred to Carillion (which went bust in Jan 2018). The John Radcliffe workers threatened strike action in 2015 around pay cuts.
Industrial action continues to be taken against PFI and its impact on working conditions, most recently this year in Lewisham (because the outsourcing firm failed to pay cleaners, porters and catering staff the wages that had been agreed) and Paddington. In the latter case, porters, caterers and cleaning staff at St Mary’s, with the support of some of the other staff, including doctors, became employees once again of the NHS.

We, in the Joint Union Committee and local SHA branch knew Oscar, in particular, as a “brilliant rank and file union leader”. The SHA branch is well connected to the workplace and local unions. They help provide the leadership of the branch. The Chair of the SHA branch, Cllr Nadine Bely-Summers, a nurse, who also represents Oxford City Council on the local Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC), demanded answers from Bruno Holtof, chief executive of the OUHT, about the deaths of the two porters:


– How many staff on site are managed by outsourcing companies or agencies?
– What personal protective equipment (PPE) was provided by the trust to staff managed by outsourcing companies or agencies?
– What personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was provided by the trust to staff managed by Bouygues and other outsourcers eg G4S? When was this provided?
– Are staff being put under pressure to return to work while reporting sick?
– How are the frontline outsourced staff who are vulnerable being treated?
– Is the Trust legally liable for Health and Safety breaches on its premises including those by outsourcing companies and agencies?

In response to her demands the Director of Public Health has promised to investigate further.
BAME Labour activists working with Oxford City’s Labour Council have raised concerns that this may be part of a worrying national picture of an especially high death toll among black and Asian workers, as reported on various TV channels and in several daily newspapers in the last week.

The local city council has written to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust asking for an explanation.
Nadine said “We must seek assurances from all NHS Trusts that there is day-to-day monitoring carried out to make sure there is not a disproportionate impact of the rates of infection and death on ethnic minority workers, and that adequate PPE are being provided at all times to all staff groups”.

Stop Press!

The Chief Executive of the Trust has written back to the council saying, among other things:
We note, however in the case of reporting incidents in relation to Covid-19, that the HSE have indicated that “[in] a work situation, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for employers to establish whether or not any infection in an individual was contracted as a result of their work. Therefore, diagnosed cases of Covid 19 are not reportable under RIDDOR ( Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations )  unless a very clear work related link is established.”

We are unable to comment in detail on specific individual cases but are able to note that there is not currently evidence to support such a link in relation to these two staff members. However we can confirm that reporting and investigation will take place in line with HSE guidance where a diagnosis of Covid-19 is directly attributed to an occupational exposure.

Oxford and District Labour Party Executive has asked Anneliese Dodds (Labour Oxford East) to raise this issue in parliament. She reports that Labour is planning to raise such issues on workers’ memorial day.

Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 644 other subscribers.

Follow us on Twitter