Privatisation plans at hospitals in Cornwall will go ahead following a meeting behind closed doors.
The board of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust (RCHT) has agreed to move forward with plans to privatise up to 450 cleaning, catering and portering jobs.
The decision has been condemned by furious union leaders who said the move would lead to lower standards and a drop in pay and conditions.
Union bosses pointed to the high prices of car parks at RCHT as an example of what happens when services are privatised.
Lezli Boswell, chief executive at RCHT said: “The RCHT Board has agreed to move forward and explore whether hotel services could be supplied by an external provider in the future. This means that we will now undergo a formal invitation to tender to consider alternative service options.
“Our priorities in making a final decision will be to ensure ongoing improvements for our patients, securing additional investment and achieving good value for money for the taxpayer. We will continue to communicate openly with our staff and support them throughout any potential changes.”
Stuart Roden from Unison, the union that represents public service workers, said the privatisation of services would be bad for patients and staff.
He said: “We believe there was never any intention to give the current services a fair crack of the whip.
“We think it is a blatant attempt to cut staff pay and conditions under a private contractor.
“They have experience of private contractors with the car parking. Any commercial contractor will run complete rings round them.”
Mr Roden said privatisation was a foregone conclusion.
“I would put my life-savings on RCHT awarding this contract,” he said. “To dress it up as some kind of process is a complete sham.”
Mr Roden also condemned the way the process had been handled by RCHT.
He said: “They have refused to speak publicly about it. Any information we have asked for we have been refused.”
The decision to go ahead with an invitation to tender was taken in private session at the RCHT board meeting on November 28 where the press and public were excluded.