GMB members reject proposals in ballot at Brighton’s Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital

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“Forcing staff to choose between a cut to their pay or endangering patient safety without a thought of the consequences, is quite frankly shocking”, says GMB Southern

A consultative ballot held by GMB Nursing and HCA Union members at Brighton’s Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital paediatrics theatre team has resulted in an overwhelming rejection of Brighton & Sussex University Hospital’s (BSUH) proposed detrimental changes to the on-call policy for the majority of staff working at the BSUH, and the negative impact it will have upon patient safety.

The ballot result on a return of 78.94% from GMB members, received an outcome of 100% support for both action up to and including strike action and action short of strike action. The ballot outcome takes GMB members working at the city’s renowned Children’s Hospital one step closer to industrial action should the trust not reverse its rush to detrimentally change on-call arrangements.

The trust have stated that the changes across BSUH to on-call are cost neutral but recognise that the Children’s Theatre teams in particular who historically provide the most on-call cover at the trust could see huge potential pay losses as a direct result of this unfair change.

Many of the department’s management and consultants who are in support of the Theatre Nursing and HCA team have all called the changes unfair and unworkable and likely to destroy morale and lead to further staffing shortages as nursing and HCA’s choose to move to other areas within the Trust or leave the NHS completely.

Although GMB union members have numerous issues overall with the proposal, one of the main issues is that when staff complete an on-call arrangement. In addition to their scheduled shift the trust will make them choose if this policy change is enforced, to make them ignore the working time directive around having 11 hours of continuous rest in 24 hours and instead force them to return to work for their next scheduled shift. This is regardless of whether doing so breeches the legislation and regardless of how tired or unfit to practice they might possibly feel or face having to lose pay.

Gary Palmer, GMB Regional Organiser says: “The majority of nursing and other NHS staff still feel pretty unappreciated after realising just how badly paid they have remained after receiving the first instalment of the NHS 3-year Government debacle. Now they find that their own trust wants to reward them for putting patients first and their own work life balance on hold by covering on-call. By forcing them to choose between a cut to their pay or endangering patient safety without a thought of the consequences, is quite frankly shocking.

“I hope BSUH management take this overwhelming show of anger and disillusionment with their employer in this ballot result seriously, because I can assure you the GMB are. Members have told me time and time again about the impossible position they will find themselves in when having to choose to breech the working time directive, which is in place to protect not only their own health but that of their patients as well, or in losing on-call payments which for some could be up to as much as 30% of their annual pay.

 “Staff have explained examples of just what their day can consist of when they turn up for work on a 8am till 6pm shift, to then responding positively to an on-call request to continue to work (many times without a break) until midnight for instance, to then find that when then leave finally to go home staff have been disturbed after as little as 60 minutes sleep to go back into work again from 2.00am to finally get back home at 6.30am, only some 90 minutes before having to start their next scheduled shift.

“The new policy that the trust want to impose would then see Nurses and HCA’s, if they failed to commence their next shift after completing an on–call session, having to owe the hours they can’t attend because of strangely needing sleep to recover from the previous long days patient care. This would mean that already exhausted staff will see an even further reduction of any type of work life balance because some time over the next month they will have to work those owed hours into an already packed working week or month or face their pay being cut.

“Staff at the Royal Alex understand that patient needs mean that on-call is always going to be needed to be covered by the children’s theatre team and are very happy, as the dedicated team they are to do so. However, the trust must listen to those that know best what is needed to protect and continue to deliver the very best paediatrics services for the children of Brighton and the south-east and not seek to thoughtlessly just save money out of the pockets of those working at the hospital.

“It’s just not right that many of the staff GMB are supporting through this process to date, might end up doing on–call 2, 3 or even 4 times a week meaning that hours owed or pay lost soon reaches ridiculous proportions, leaving some nursing staff risking their reputations, registrations and patients health along with their own by having to do even more additional shifts in order to stop their employer deducting pay and leaving them unable to pay everyday bills and living costs, as a result of covering these shifts.

“Therefore the GMB union and Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital theatre staff have asked that this detrimental proposal is halted and that the trust look instead to design, with the help of the team themselves, a new shift pattern to incorporate planned on-call provision, meaning patient safety, staff work life balances and pay would remain protected.

“Unfortunately after some initial positive noises by management to the GMB and children’s theatre teams’ alternative suggestion on the matter like rostered on–call is being ignored by the trust and dismissed as too expensive.

“Even though staff are fully behind the option in principal, nothing has progressed and the potential April 1st implementation date has not been taken off the table, so in light of such a strong consultative ballot outcome GMB union members have chosen to press on towards formal notice being given to the trust to undertake an industrial action ballot.

“On the basis of that result, members will decide reluctantly on a range of actions available to take including strike action, not providing any on-call services or a work to rule and contractual hours only as a direct response to the application of any such a detrimental changes if the trust ignore them and impose changes.”

Contact: Gary Palmer 07552 165950 or GMB Southern Press Office 07970 114762