The lockout of blood test scientists by Northampton General Hospital has turned into full strike,
The Unite union members, who now number 58, have not been back to NGH for almost two weeks because of a long-running disagreement over proposed cuts in overtime.
NGH bosses said they can come back as long as they sign a contract agreeing to work to a safe standard.
But the workers have now voted to be on strike, leaving colleagues who had agreed to the deal to operate the blood test machines and perform safety checks.
Dr Sonia Swart, chief executive of NGH, said: “This really saddens me as I used to work alongside some of these staff in haemotology.
“I can understand nobody wants to take a pay cut, but this is something all other departments in the hospital have had to accept. There’s not unlimited money in the health service yet demands are higher and nowadays the NHS is expected to work at the same high standrads 24/7.
“So therefore we felt we had to bring everyone’s pay to an equal level, which 94 per cent of staff here have signed up to.”
The deal for boosted overtime for the scientists goes back 12 years, at a time when the NHS was not facing the type of financial problems as now and when another strike was threatened.
Dr Swart praised the staff who have continued to run the blood test department during the dispute, saying that, although a handful of routine tests have had to be sent away to be carried out elsewhere, they have ensured that patient safety has not been at risk.
She said: “Sitting here now, you think, ‘how did we come to this?’
“We didn’t want to lock them out in the first place, but some were refusing to reveal which parts of their job they would and wouldn’t do.
“Unfortunately, some of the members couldn’t even guarantee they would answer the phone to the emergency department.
“When you get a complex situation like this you have to think what is best for patients.”