A group of 60 Northampton General Hospital (NHS) workers gathered outside the hospital doors today after they were refused entry by management.
The workers, professional pathologists within the blood sciences department, said they were refused entry to work for agreeing to take to take part in strike action including working to rule and not completing any overtime.
Yesterday, a day before the strike was due to take start, all workers in the pathology department were told they must sign a letter agreeing they would not take part in the industrial action or they would be refused entry to the hospital.
The dispute between the hospital trust and Unite is over the NHS’s push to extend overtime shifts but reduce pay of pathologists.
The letter, sent by Gus Lusack, head of pathology, stated that due to the “stance, lack of information and lack of clarity” from Unite about how much work the pathologists would complete the hospital was “unable to guarantee patient safety”.
But Unite members, who formed a picket line outside the hospital today, have argued that patient safety will still be compromised by refusing entry to staff who still want to work during normal hours.
Staff who did not sign the letter have been told they will not be permitted access to the hospital and will not get paid for every day they are on strike.
Pathologist, Martin Garratt, who said he’s had his contract terminated after working in the NHS for 30 years, said: “Patient safety is clearly not paramount as the hospital now has to bring in locums who are not properly trained to work with the complex machines. Blood test and treatments run from today will not be safe.
“Even though they are proposing extending our out-of-hours shifts at a reduced rate of pay, we still wanted to cover emergency shifts, but the Trust have refused even that.”
Unite representative and NGH pathologist, Terry Lodge, said: “This move by the health service is unprecedented and it is a very sad day that it has come to this. We all came into work this morning, expecting business as usual, but the Trust has literally forced us down the industrial action route.
“Even our own human resources manager had no idea this was going to be happening until we told her.
“Some of us have been here for up to 40 years, sacrificing Christmases and birthdays and going through difficulty at home because of our long shifts, and this is what we get back.”
A young practitioner in the blood sciences department, who wished to remain nameless, was also refused entry even though he is not a member of the Unite union. He said: “I shouldn’t have to sign a letter like that just to come in and do my job.”
Regional officer for Unite, Mick Orpin, added: “We feel like we are banging our heads against the wall trying to negotiate with the Trust while they just won’t compromise or talk to us.
“This will carry on indefinitely with workers losing their jobs unless they accept inferior terms.”
A spokesman for NGH said the action proposed by Unite had created “uncertainty” in the pathology service.
The spokesman said: “Patient safety is of paramount importance to us. We treat a high volume of emergency patients at the hospital and the care they receive is absolutely dependent on rapid turnaround of vital tests. The action It is for that reason that we have had to take the decision to ask staff who have chosen not to work to their contract to remain at home during the period of the dispute.”
The letter send to pathologists stated that Unite’s refusal to commit to a one-hour turnaround for pathology results “seemed designed to cause maximum disruption for patient care and the trust.”
The letter also states it put individuals in breach of their contracts and would harm “patients and staff alike.”