Nurses at St George’s Hospital in London are being balloted for possible industrial action over changes to their rotas.
Around 400 theatre nurses and practitioners at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust are taking part in an “indicative” ballot. Depending on the outcome of the indicative ballot, a full ballot could be triggered that may result in official industrial action at St Georges by nurses for the first time in 23 years.
The new arrangements introduce a variety of shifts, depending on the needs of the service, and replace a basic Monday to Friday, 8:30-5pm pattern.
The union Unison says the rota changes would see staff “suffer pay cuts, day staff forced to work night duty and some of those with childcare commitments forced to quit theatres”.
It says staff are unhappy the rotas do not incorporate provision for childcare and include late shifts that finish at 10pm, an hour later than their current finishing time, which could cause problems for female staff going home by public transport.
The trust has indicated that nurses with childcare responsibilities will be taken off theatre and placed in different wards or specialties.
Unison branch secretary Geoff Thorne said: “It now looks inevitable that we are heading towards industrial action by nurses and practitioners, a situation created by management’s refusal to sit down and discuss childcare and pay protection arrangements.”
Unison nursing convenor Jane Pilgrim added: “I remain hopeful that even at this late stage, we can still sit down and resolve the outstanding issues affecting nursing staff so that patients can continue to receive high quality services.”
A spokesman for the trust said the shift-based rota system had been the subject of months of negotiation with the union.
He said: “The changes will help the trust to meet a growing demand for surgery and to offer patients operations during evenings and on weekends. There will be no redundancies resulting from the changes and additional staff will be recruited to support the new rotas.”
He added: “Changes to the shift system were first raised in a 2007 consultation. Those staff who have joined the trust or been promoted since August 2008 are already employed under the new system. Payment arrangements for additional hours are being changed so, as part of the negotiations, an enhanced bank rate has been agreed for theatre staff.
“Where possible, the trust has sought to either accommodate or offer a compromise to individuals with child care or other commitments. So far, nearly 100 meetings have taken place with individual staff who have asked that their personal circumstances be considered.”