Northampton General Hospital is still able to provide a 24/7 pathology service to patients despite 78 members of staff going on strike, a trust spokesman said today (Friday).
A group of biomedical scientists and Unite members, as well as non-union members, have been on strike for the past two days after they were refused permission to the hospital grounds because they have refused to sign a letter, drawn up by the hospital, that states they will not take part in any industrial action.
A spokesman for Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust said that its prime concern was continuing to provide a 24/7 pathology service to patients.
The spokesman said: “Despite intensive consultation with the union and its members over 12 months, a minority of staff chose to take industrial action. This action would have led to increased turnaround times for vital emergency samples and potential gaps in our pathology service. That was a risk we were not prepared to take.
“We respect the right of staff to peaceful protest and would like to confirm that at no point did security remove colleagues from the building. We have a duty to ensure patient services are not affected and that staff who are working can do so in a safe, non-threatening environment. That is the reason staff were asked to leave and protest instead outside the premises.
“We are confident that we have the suitable number of qualified staff in place to provide the 24/7 high-quality pathology service that our patients require. All temporary staff appointed have the appropriate level of experience and our contingency plans are well thought out.”
The dispute between Unite and the hospital trust is over plans to extend overtime but reduce the pay of pathologists.
Unite has called the move a “disgraceful abuse of power” and accused the Trust of putting patient safety at grave risk and wasting resources in its “heavy-handed bid” to “force workers to accept new detrimental terms without any meaningful negotiation”.
The union has also claimed the Trust has refused to answer calls from the employee advisors, Advisory Conciliation Arbitration Services (ACAS).
Unite regional officer, Mick Orpin, said: “The trust is guilty of a disgraceful abuse of power not only for banning its workforce, but also for denying patients the expertise of dedicated and skilled professionals.
“Locking out an entire workforce for exercising their legal right to take industrial action is utterly barbaric and is virtually unprecedented in the NHS.
“Today is a very dark day for Northampton General Hospital and a bleak stain on the NHS. Seventy-eight pathologists – more used to helping those in need – have been barred from entering the workplace for exercising their legal right to take industrial action.
“Unite is calling on the trust to abandon its bully-boy tactics and to sit down with ACAS to settle this dispute. It’s bad enough for an employer to force its will by locking out a workforce but when that employer is the NHS it is truly shocking.”
However, in a letter sent to all staff by Gus Lusack, head of pathology, the “lack of information and clarity” from Unite about how many hours staff would work during the strike has been blamed for “putting patient safety at risk”.
A statement issued by the Trust 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. 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.”