test tubes

Pathologists vote to strike over new shifts row at Barking NHS trust that puts patients’ samples ‘at risk’

Pathologists at a north east London NHS trust have voted for strike action in a dispute over new shift patterns which, it is claimed, could compromise the integrity of patients’ samples.

The warning has come from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union which represents 88 biomedical scientists working at Queen’s Hospital, Romford and King George Hospital, Ilford who face losing about £10,000 a year, if the new shifts go-ahead on 4 November.

The pathologists, who are employed by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, voted by 87 per cent for strike action. Strike dates are expected to be announced soon.

Unite said that it submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to probe what was happening to patient samples and the trust replied: ‘No sample is discarded prior to analysis’.

However, the trust cited ‘commercial confidentiality’ in declining to answer the question: ‘How many blood and other examples within the pathology department at Queen’s Hospital and King George Hospital have been processed after the recommended testing time in each of the last 12 months?’

Unite has also accused the management of closing down public debate at last month’s annual meeting.

The crux of the dispute is the lack of consultation by trust bosses in planning to move the present ‘on call’ system to a seven day a week shift system, which, Unite says, will cost its members about £10,000 a year in lost income.

Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: “Management has repeatedly scheduled implementation dates for the new system which has caused great anxiety to our members.

“It is now scheduled for 4 November, but even this roster is a mess with many shifts not covered and staff being rostered on days they have already told the bosses they cannot work.

“Unite has urged the trust to put the new system ‘on hold’ and meet us to try to resolve the dispute, but management has refused.

“Management doesn’t appreciate that our members have childcare and other caring responsibilities, as well as other commitments outside of work, and they have had to repeatedly try to rearrange these when new implementation dates have been announced during this year.

“Management has tried desperately to bypass Unite and dupe members into signing letters accepting the new shift system.

“Our members stand to lose over £10,000 in ‘on call’ payments, but they are also concerned that the management shambles will result in an unsafe service for patients.

“Our members had legitimate concerns about the time it was allegedly taking for blood and other samples to be tested – that’s why we submitted the FoI request.

“Unfortunately, the trust’s reply citing the catch-all ‘commercial confidentiality’ regarding processing after the recommended testing time still leaves serious questions lingering in the air.

“Members continue to believe that the management has not put in place safe levels of staffing for the shifts which will lead to delays and mistakes in patient test results.

“Partnership working between management and the unions (which happens at all NHS trusts and is required by the national Agenda for Change terms and conditions) has completely broken down and management has refused to meet with any unions since November 2018 because of a linked dispute over pay protection.

“Management at this trust is completely unaccountable. At the recent AGM no time for questions from the public was scheduled and, in the end, only three questions from the public were allowed.

“The trust’s own staff survey shows that the hospitals have become increasingly difficult places to work over the last two years and morale is rock bottom. A third of employees are thinking of leaving. Staff turnover, running at 14 per cent, is higher than the NHS average (10 per cent).

“The situation is exacerbated by a recruitment crisis in the pathology department and many of the shifts will not have a safe level of staffing, which should be of serious concern for the 750,000 people covered by the trust, who rely on this service for the analysing of vital blood samples. 

“Unite has always been willing to discuss these issues with the trust, but we have been met with a brick wall of managerial intransigence, hence the ballot for strike action that has now received an overwhelming mandate from our members.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065
Email: shaun.noble@unitetheunion.org

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

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