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Lock-out for striking pathology staff at Northampton General Hospital ‘could last for weeks’

Members of the pathology unit on strike at Northampton General Hospital

Members of the pathology unit on strike at Northampton General Hospital

Temporary staff are set to continue filling in for blood scientists at Northampton General Hospital after talks failed to resolve the deadlock between the hospital and the pathology department.

The ACAS conciliatory body hosted ‘exploratory’ talks yesterday between the Unite union and a hospital HR manager.

However, aside from a commitment to meet again a week today, the union said “very little progress” was made.

Terry Lodge, a haemotology worker who is one of 43 locked out of the NGH pathology department by managers, said the situation was far from resolving itself.

He said: “How long will this last? It looks indefinite at the moment, unfortunately. At this rate, you are looking at weeks before any of us go back to work. Our concern at the moment is for patient safety while inexperienced staff are testing blood samples.”

The dispute centres on NGH asking the scientists to, in effect, take a pay cut of several thousand pounds each as it seeks to save money.

The scientists, backed by Unite, voted to work slowly on non-urgent tests.

However, before the day of the proposed action last Thursday, managers brought in temporary scientists and transferred clerical staff from other departments , with regular staff scientists finding themselves locked out and security staff stationed at the department entrance.

Unite has claimed some blood tests are running up to four hours later than usual – one of which was allegedly cancelled after taking 11 hours – and also said it was concerned for patient safety.

A Unite spokesman said: “It is sad because we were prepared to do urgent work as quickly as usual.”

The replacement scientists are understood to number less than a dozen – not including temporary clerical staff – and have consequently been asked to sign themselves out of a national agreement limiting workers to 40 hours per week so they are able to work longer to meet demand.

Locked out workers have claimed to the Chron that some tests are being sent to other hospitals because of the backlog. However, NGH has denied that any more tests than usual are being sent elsewhere * (see updated statement below).

NGH said patients were safe despite the ongoing dispute and added it is still running a 24/7 pathology service.

A spokesman said: “Turnaround times for urgent tests have not been affected and most departments have not noticed any impact. Patient safety has not been compromised at any time.”

Contrary to the union view, the spokesman added: “We had a productive meeting with ACAS and regional Unite representatives and a further discussion has been scheduled for next week.”

The hospital said that more than 94 per cent of NGH’s 600 affected staff had already accepted the new pay terms.

The spokesman added: “Our plans to harmonise on-call, stand-by and out-of-hours payments are simply intended to ensure staff are paid fairly and equitably across the trust and bring them into line with national terms and conditions of service.”

*UPDATE FROM NGH ON THURSDAY:

A spokesman for Northampton General Hospital said:

“Pathology tests are not being sent to other hospitals because of any backlog. We have a system in place whereby non-urgent specialist tests can be sent out to a private laboratory. This is normal practice for us, and we can confirm that some tests have been sent to this laboratory this week in line with that longstanding arrangement.”

He later added: “Last Thursday when the strike action began there was a backlog of work left by the staff, which then had to be cleared. We also needed to resolve IT issues and find missing manuals. These unexplained minor issues were quickly addressed in line with the contingency plans. No further issues have arisen since this time and there was no impact on patient safety.

“We are investigating one case in which a patient waited longer than is normal for a blood transfusion, but we already know that the reason for this delay was not connected to the industrial action in pathology.”

A spokesman said: “Turnaround times for urgent tests have not been affected and most departments have not noticed any impact. Patient safety has not been compromised at any time.”

Contrary to the union view, the spokesman added: “We had a productive meeting with ACAS and regional Unite representatives and a further discussion has been scheduled for next week.”

The hospital said that more than 94 per cent of NGH’s 600 affected staff had already accepted the new pay terms.

The spokesman added: “Our plans to harmonise on-call, stand-by and out-of-hours payments are simply intended to ensure staff are paid fairly and equitably across the trust and bring them into line with national terms and conditions of service.”

 

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