The crisis in theatre staffing at the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham could lead to cancelled and delayed operations in the new year, should theatre staff vote for industrial action.
Theatre staff have been warning the bosses at the Medway NHS Foundation Trust for more than a year about the threat to patient safety, as the Kent hospital faces a ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis in the operating theatres.
Unite, the country’s largest union, is balloting its 74 anaesthetic practitioner, staff nurse, obstetric and theatre recovery members for strike action and industrial action short of a strike. The ballot opens on 4 December and closes on 21 December.
The dispute centres on the new rosters introduced on 13 November which, in one case, meant shift members working 12 hours without being relieved for their 30 minute unpaid break, with just a 10 minute break for a glass of water between patients.
The new rosters replaced the standard 37.5 hour week with a system that could mean staff working well beyond 37.5 hours one week and well below that figure the next, adding up to 150 hours over four weeks.
Management has admitted that there is no guarantee that even over a four week period the hours will add up to 150 and staff could owe hours back or be owed time off every single month.
Unite regional officer Kathy Walters said: “The new rosters are a definite threat to patient safety as theatre staff will be exhausted if they have to work well over their contracted hours in a week. Staff are working the new rotas under protest.
“We have been in so-called consultations with the management for almost 18 months with patient safety at the top of the agenda – but the bosses are not listening.
“The employer has implemented the new shift pattern without agreement which means that members can be rostered to work well in excess of their contracted hours in any one week.
“Other areas within the hospital where this has already been implemented have told us of staff being rostered for up to 60 hours a week.
“Our members do not feel this is safe for patients, nor is it fair for them as employees. They are committed to providing high quality care to patients and are worried that the imposition of these new rosters will lead to risks to patient safety, as well as to staff well-being and morale.
“So, reluctantly, our members are being balloted for industrial action and we are seeking the support of the Kent public in our campaign to have adequate staffing in the operating theatres at the Medway Maritime Hospital.
“Numerous staff in the theatres’ department have left Medway over the last 12 months with more handing in their notice in the last few weeks. The management is plastering over the cracks with ‘bank’ (agency) staff, which is a very expensive and short-term option.
“Our members want the restoration of the 37.5 hour week and assurances that they will be relieved when they take their 30 minute break during their shifts. They are open to talking with the employer to resolve this dispute.
“If industrial action goes ahead in the new year, operations will be cancelled, delayed and postponed which we really wish to avoid. The management needs to come up with a coherent action plan to tackle the massive recruitment and retention crisis, and put patient safety first.
“The goodwill of hardworking NHS staff is wearing very thin and our members are at breaking point.”
The hospital covers a population of more than 400,000 across Medway and Swale.
Notes to editors:
The trust’s website says: “We provide clinical services to almost half a million patients a year, including 110,000 Emergency Department attendances, 62,000 inpatient admissions, over 325,000 outpatient attendances and more than 5,100 babies were born at the hospital last year.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.