Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Learning Disabilities Transition Programme - Bradford District Care Trust

“Very good example of partnership working to achieve positive transfer of services. Open communication, clear with positive feeling of working together.”

About the trust

Bradford District Care Trust is a provider of community health, mental health and specialist learning disability services across Bradford, Airedale and Craven. The trust serves a population of 550,000 and employs over 3,000 staff. The trust is currently moving towards Foundation Trust status.


A strategic review of learning disability services in Bradford in 2007 identified the need to transform and modernise services to ensure the trust fitted the needs, aspirations and choices of people with learning disabilities in Bradford.


The trust, Bradford Council and trade unions worked together on a four-year programme, Changing Lives, to attract new care providers in order to personalise service delivery for 1,250 service users and prepare their 840 staff members for transfer to non-NHS organisations.

The project was complex and involved delivering the following:

  • working with the local authority to re-assess the needs of all 1,250 service users
  • providing detailed information to commissioners to support the tendering of services
  • transforming two nursing homes to supported living services and providing a greater choice of day and employment services
  • transferring 300 staff in supported living services to three new charitable organisations (concurrently)
  • transferring 300 staff in day services to a charitable organisation
  • transferring 181 staff in residential and nursing homes to a charitable organisation
  • transferring 59 staff in respite services to a private company. 

The importance of working in partnership

In recognition of the complexity of the programme and the need to engage staff ensuring excellent communication was vitally important. For this reason the trust supported the funding of a UNISON representative to work on the programme for four days a week.

The UNISON lead acted as an integral part of the trust’s transition project team and attended the programme's strategic and operational meetings, feeding back information from trade unions/staff, to help management make decisions and support communication back to trust employees.

Delivering difficult messages about future pension provision, restructuring the trust, implementing TUPE measures and keeping staff engaged in this agenda was very challenging.

To avoid confusion the trust made sure that all internal communications from managers and staff side were not only consistent but were delivered in an open and honest way.

This reassured staff that the process was being conducted transparently and with the full involvement of the staff union. Communication channels included:

  • a series of TUPE training sessions for managers and local trade union representatives
  • key messages from the TUPE training sessions were also delivered in team meetings to staff
  • trade union and management led road shows for staff where managers, UNISON and the council members all participated
  • frequently asked questions and letters developed by the UNISON lead and HR staff
  • senior managers visiting 100 sites out of hours to talk to staff.

The early involvement of UNISON and HR helped to highlight issues at an early stage and allowed effective planning and implementation to take place.

These measures were also included in the commissioner's plans:

  • adequate consultation periods (no less than 12 weeks)
  • methods and timing of communication to staff, service users and carers
  • issues relating to future pension provision and length of time for the processes to take place
  • deciding if staff were assigned under TUPE including corporate staff
  • planning of resources and training of managers
  • shared understanding of the information required by all parties and how this would be shared.

During the transition an overall Changing Lives Steering Group took place every fortnight. The group was informed by an internal trust working group that consisted of a range of service managers and corporate functions, as well as project managers from the new provider organisations.

To identify the most appropriate support mechanisms for staff, a Social Partnership Forum was designed specifically to discuss and consult on progress and address any arising issues. The forum included representatives from GMB, RCN, UNITE and two branches of UNISON (Local Authority and Health) and was greatly valued by staff. 


  • All transformations and transfers were delivered effectively with no disruption to service users or service delivery. 
  • Improved personalisation of services and range of choice for service users.
  • Staff consultations throughout the process were positive and the feedback from staff was acted upon.
  • Pensions were secured for staff.
  • Excellent partnership working. 

Changing Lives resulted in improved service delivery with increased choice and personalisation, including a greater opportunity for employment and choices of where to live.

Stakeholder evaluation highlighted the following achievements: 44% of respondents said the overall project was excellent and 44% said it was above average.

Following this success, Bradford District Care Trust is now embarking on a transformation programme which will involve implementing changes to the trust’s culture, workforce and services.

Top tips

  • Work together to form a communications action plan so every angle is covered and everyone understands the actions and how they are contributing. 
  • Work on the project with trade unions, don’t just talk to them. Ensure representatives can shape the agenda and influence decisions.
  • Work with trade union representatives to train local managers in change management.
  • Don’t expect staff to come to you – go out and find them.
    Be honest and transparent, don’t shelter staff from things they might not want to hear but equally let them know you are trying to work in their best interests.
  • Ensure there are robust project structures that involve staff side at every level.
  • When identifying third sector and private organisations to provide services, look for evidence of Human Resource good practice and a commitment to robust partnership working between employer and staff unions.

Further information and contact details:

Annette Tindall, HR Business Partner -; 012 7436 3442; 079 2047 8337