Biomedical scientists in the frontline of Covid-19 testing at a Lancashire NHS trust are ramping up their industrial action with a further three weeks of strikes in June, after bosses reneged on an upgrading pay agreement.

Unite the union said its biomedical scientist members, who analyse patient blood samples at the Royal Blackburn Hospital and the Burnley General Teaching Hospital, will strike continuously from 00.01 Monday 31 May until 06.59 Monday 21 June.

The 21 biomedical scientists, employed by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, have been striking during night, weekend and late shifts since 7 May– but the new strike action means that they will be striking all day for three weeks.

Unite warned that the new strikes increase pressure on whether the accident and emergency department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital will be able to remain open in June.

Unite said that its 21 members were owed back pay of between several hundred pounds to £8,000, as managers had failed to honour an agreement to upgrade them from band 5 to band 6 on the Agenda for Change (AfC) scale. The back pay issue goes back as far as 2010 for some members.

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “Our biomedical scientists, who have had years of training and are highly skilled, are ratcheting up the industrial action with three weeks of strikes from 31 May which will adversely impact on how quickly patients’ samples can be analysed.

“This will increase pressure on whether the accident and emergency department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital will be able to be open during the first three weeks of June as there will be no biomedical scientists on duty to analyse samples.

“This could mean ambulances with patients being sent to other hospitals across the region. (Burnley General Teaching Hospital does not have an A&E department).

“The trust management has behaved with ‘bad faith’ in not honouring the agreement it made with our members at the end of 2019 to upgrade them as a means to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis that is affecting the profession.

“The quickest way to solve this dispute, so there is no delay in patients receiving their sample results, is for the management to honour what it agreed to in 2019.

“If you sign up to an agreement, you should honour it; most people would think this is the reasonable way to behave.

“We are not prepared to see our members forego back pay which, in some cases, amounts up to £8,000 – this being the difference between band 5 and 6. For some of our members this issue has been a running sore since 2010.

“Now is the time for the trust management to do the right thing before strike action escalates further – Unite’s door is open for constructive talks at any time.”

Unite said that it negotiated an agreement at the end of 2019 for the uplift with the trust management in a bid to tackle the retention crisis which has seen underpaid biomedical scientists voting with their feet and moving to other trusts in the north west that pay the correct AfC scale.

Unite said that after the upgrade was agreed with the trust it was then put ‘on hold’ as an act of goodwill during the worst of the pandemic – but now the management is refusing to honour the deal and pay the difference between bands 5 and 6.

This amounts from several hundred pounds up to £8,000, depending on an individual’s circumstances.

ENDS 

Notes to editors:

Band 6 is about £38,000-a-year and is for working unsupervised for a number of years. Band 5 pays about £30,000.

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.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: 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.