The battle lines have been drawn in the on-going dispute between Northampton General Hospital and staff in the pathology department.
With no end apparently in sight in the row over changes to working hours and pay, the Chron looks at the arguments for and against the strike action.
Out-of-hours pathology staff process blood tests from every part of the hospital, including emergency tests from A&E.
The importance of their jobs rests on the fact that, although machines carry out the tests, scientists have to analyse that data to spot any mistakes.
Therefore, whereas operating the blood test machine could be learned quite quickly and could be carried out in as little as 15 minutes, it is the analysis done by highly-qualified scientists – some at NGH with decades of experience – that makes sure the machines are correct.
A Unite spokesman said: “Staff cover almost 80 per cent of the 24/7 rota but for less than 10 per cent of the NGH Pathology budget.
“NGH wants to cut that outlay. The loss to individuals proposed by NGH management represents in excess of 15 per cent of their total pay.
“The payments they receive is for every night from 8pm to 8am, every Saturday and Sunday daytime from 8am to 8pm, and every Bank Holiday. In addition they cover for long and short-term sickness, maternity and paternity leave and for staff leaving the service.
“On Tuesday, staff were given notice of 90 days termination of the old terms, with pathology and blood science staff, as things stand, ceasing to be employed by the trust on October 1.
“Locum staff who might be asked to step in would only do so at much higher rates than current permanent staff are paid.”
An NGH spokesman said: “As part of a wider review into the pathology service provided at NGH, staff within the
pathology department were engaged in a consultation regarding changes to their on-call and out-of-hours arrangements and payments.
“This was to bring their working arrangements in line with national terms and conditions and, at the same time, ensure equity with other staff within the Trust.
“In order for the department to remain competitive and affordable in today’s NHS, the pathology service (like others) must be provided in the most efficient and cost-effective way, while at the same time ensuring there is no compromise on quality, and provide a 24/7 service.
“The key objectives of the consultation are to make the service more resilient and provide a full, contractual and equitable, shift-based service.
“We recognise for some staff, the proposal will lead to a reduction in overall salary. However, no posts will be downgraded or removed.”
He added: “Pathology staff are on national terms and conditions, including basic pay, but have been receiving greater proportional pay for out-of-hours work than other staff.
“It is important that this inequity is corrected so that we can provide a fair, equitable system of reward across the hospital and provide better services seven days a week and 24 hours a day to ensure patient safety.”