Operating theatre staff, members of Unite the country’s largest union, employed by Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s Warrington Hospital, have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over changes to their terms and conditions which could adversely affect patient care.
Nearly 80 per cent of Unite members taking part in the industrial action ballot at the trust gave a massive 100 per cent backing in favour of strike action in a long-running dispute about new rotas for emergency night cover in operating theatres.
Unite members have raised safety concerns regarding the new rotas proposed by the trust, which included the removal of a support worker post and changes to the number of professional staff on call, on site at night, as well as how staff would be utilised on the night emergency shift. The changes would also have significant impact on the pay of some of the staff.
The strong vote in favour displays a depth of anger which cannot be ignored. Unite is calling for a negotiated settlement on the issues that still remain unresolved to end the four-year dispute and avoid industrial action taking place.
Unite regional officer Derek Jones said: “Healthcare workers take their professional duties extremely seriously and industrial action is always a last resort, but the trust management has failed to listen to their concerns for a long time and they had no other option left to them.
“This has caused and continues to cause great stress to our members. Yet they have been very concerned from a profession perspective over the proposed loss of key support staff and the reduction of highly skilled professional staff at night providing emergency theatre cover.
“As a professional theatre team, the care of their patients is paramount and after a long and serious contemplation our members felt the only way to refocus the trust’s attention was through an industrial action ballot.
“Staff are keen to find a negotiated resolution but believe they have been given no alternative but to consider strike action in a bid to protect their terms and conditions and patient safety.
“We would urge the trust to recognise the strength of feeling of its workers and to find a resolution to the issues in dispute to avoid strike action by theatre staff going ahead.
“We are currently in talks with the management however if there is not a speedy resolution to this dispute we will be announcing dates for industrial action in the near future.”
Update 21 July 2017
Re: Proposed Industrial Action by Theatres Staff
Jan Ross, Acting Chief Operating Officer, Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said:
It is very disappointing that Warrington Hospital’s theatres staff have announced their intention to take industrial action, despite a number of offers made by the Trust to avoid such action – including an offer to mediate through ACAS – which has been refused outright.
The Trust is proposing to harmonise the shift patterns/rosters/on-call arrangements for theatres staff in line with NCEPOD guidance. Currently there are issues of over-staffing and inequity in pay in some staff groups, which is both unfair and unacceptable.
There are no patient safety issues related to this action – this is an action purely related to pay and terms & conditions.
The Trust has already conducted a Quality Impact Assessment which provided assurance that the proposed changes to rostering are safe. In addition, an external expert was contracted to conduct an independent assessment and this was received earlier this month with the verdict that the proposals were safe.
Theatres staff have rejected any proposal from the Trust that is anything other than ‘maintain status quo’. Attempts have been made over the past four years to resolve the inequity in pay and overstaffing issues which has been met each time by significant resistance and the lodging of grievances.
Comprehensive arrangements have been made by the Trust to ensure that patients are not affected by this industrial action.