Pathology staff, who test and monitor blood and other specimens at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, will be balloted for industrial action in a dispute over reduced staffing levels and patient safety.
The 40 members of Unite, the country’s largest union, will be balloted for strike action and industrial action short of a strike. The ballot opens on Thursday 27 March and closes on Thursday 10 April.
The dispute started on 1 March when the management moved staff in haematology and transfusion, microbiology, bio chemistry and specimen reception onto a 24/7 shift pattern.
Unite regional officer Debbie Watson said: “This dispute is about patient safety and work life balance. This is coupled with a feeling that staff have not been listened to when they have aired legitimate concerns.
“We have already warned that there are not enough staff to run the shifts safely – but the trust has bulldozed ahead regardless.
“There are concerns about patient safety, for example, during some of the ‘out of hours’ period only one suitably qualified person - when there should really be two - is able to carry out critical tasks, such as making sure that blood is matched correctly.
“The amount of staff available during the day is reduced to allow the evenings and weekends to be covered. This is resulting in backlogs and is placing great pressure on staff.
“As a higher proportion of night shifts have to be worked, staff are becoming increasingly tired and are worried about mistakes being made.
“Morale is at an all-time low, so people are now looking to leave, both the hospital and the profession altogether. This contributes to increased stress levels.
“And what happens if people call in sick prior to or are taken ill during a night shift? There are no procedures in place to deal with this other than ring round and hope for the best – a fingers crossed approach.
“We call on the management to enter into a constructive dialogue immediately in the interests of patient safety and adequate – and safe – staffing levels.
Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown said: “Unfortunately, what the management is attempting to impose on our members in Reading is not unique across England in the cash-strapped NHS.
“We have had similar cases in Leeds, Milton Keynes and in the North West – Unite will continue to defend our members’ interests, and, more generally, the case for patient safety, which is paramount.”
For further information please contact:
Debbie Watson on 07798 531029
Unite south east deputy regional secretary Sarah Carpenter on 07768 931303
Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
Notes to editors
• Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.