A union has agreed to suspend the upcoming indefinite strike action by hospital staff in Bradford amid an apparent climbdown by hospital bosses.

Staff who work in the estates, facilities and clinical engineering departments at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which includes the Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI) and St Luke’s Hospital, have been embroiled in a bitter industrial dispute as they fight to “stay within the NHS”.

The row revolves around the creation of a ‘wholly-owned subsidiary company’, with the union fearing the transfer would strip workers, including porters, domestic and security staff, of the protections they have as NHS employees, although the Trust had always denied it was privatising services.

In a dramatic twist this afternoon, a joint statement was issued to the Telegraph & Argus by the acting chief executive of the Hospitals Trust, John Holden, and Unison's regional organiser, Natalie Ratcliffe.

The statement read: “Following constructive talks facilitated by ACAS yesterday (21 August), Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Unison have agreed to suspend the indefinite industrial action that is due to commence on 26 August 2019, subject to specific legal agreement on this point.

“The Trust has agreed not to proceed with a 1 October transfer date.

"The Board of Directors will meet on 12 September.

"Unison has been offered the opportunity to present its case to allow the Board to further reflect on the position previously taken. The outcome of this further consideration will be notified to Unison by the end of September 2019. Should the Board continue with its plans to form Bradford Healthcare Facilities Management Ltd (BHFML) it has been agreed that the earliest transfer date will now be 15 February 2020.”

Prior to this week's meeting, the dispute had been intensifying, with Unison accusing the hospital trust of misleading its staff and the public over the creation of the wholly-owned subsidiary company.

While the Trust had sought to provide reassurance that terms and conditions would be guaranteed for 25 years, Unison and its members feared this would not be the case.

In a letter to the Hospital Trust, Unison had claimed that terms and conditions cannot be ‘absolutely guaranteed’ beyond one year, as “contracts can be lawfully terminated for genuine economic, technical or organisational reasons”.

“Unison asked you to reflect this point in staff briefings prior to the dispute,”the letter said.

“However the Trust chose not to fully explain the legal position to staff and, in my view, sought to mislead with the “absolute guarantee”.”

The Trust had earlier told the T&A: “We have already guaranteed that all staff will transfer to Bradford Healthcare Facilities Management Ltd with their existing NHS terms and conditions protected for the length of the contract with the Trust, which is 25 years. All staff will have their terms and conditions protected by legislation (TUPE) at the time they transfer to the new company. Our additional 25 year commitment is over and above TUPE and protects staff’s current rate of pay, sick pay entitlement, unsocial hours payments, bank holiday pay rates and annual leave, redundancy pay and maternity pay entitlements

Bradford South MP Judith Cummins welcomed the further talks.

She said: “This is a positive first step from the Trust, and it is only right they are looking again at such an important decision.

"I urge the board to make the right decision and drop these plans once and for all. These workers are an invaluable part of our health service, and they help thousands of patients across the Bradford District."