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Unite ballots theatre nurse members over industrial action in new year

Theatre nurses could begin 2018 on strike over claims that newly-enforced shift rotas put patient safety at risk.

Theatre nurses could begin 2018 on strike over claims that newly-enforced shift rotas put patient safety at risk.

  • Medway Maritime Hospital replaced 37.5-hour week with a 'new and fairer' system
  • Reports of staff working shifts of up to 60 hours a week
  • Unite is balloting members from today (December 4)
Theatre nurses
Picture: iStock

Staff at Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham, have been locked in talks over rosters for the past 18 months, amid a recruitment and retention crisis in the theatre departments.

To address staff shortages, the hospital replaced the standard 37.5-hour week with a system that could allow staff to work longer one week and less the next, with a total of 150 hours worked over a four-week period.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust said the arrangement would be fairer for staff and pull the theatre departments into line with the trust’s other wards.

Unite asks members to ballot on striking or industrial action

However, Unite trade union members say staff on other wards have reported working shifts of up to 60 hours a week and either owing or being owed hours, depending on demand.

Unite represents 74 anaesthetic practitioners, staff nurses, obstetric and theatre recovery members, and is asking members to ballot on strike action or industrial action short of a strike.

The union said members reported one case where they worked 12-hour shifts without being relieved for their 30 minute unpaid break and only given ten-minute breaks for water between patients, since the enforced contractual change on 13 November.

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.'

Staff exodus from theatre departments

Ms Walters said numerous people had left the theatre departments at Medway over the last year, with more handing in their notice in the past few weeks.

Unite said it is reluctantly holding a ballot in the hope of restoring 37.5 hour weeks, securing guaranteed half-hour breaks and the trust developing a coherent plan to tackle the ‘massive recruitment and retention crisis’.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust director of nursing Karen Rule said strikes were needless and she was disappointed Unite had taken the decision to ballot.

‘We want to make sure we make the most of our operating theatres, and by moving to the new rota system we will be able to work more efficiently,’ she said.

‘It would also be unsustainable for staff well-being to continue with the previous arrangements, where small numbers of staff worked up to seven days in a row and up to 75 hours a week, while others worked markedly less.

She said the new rota meant an average of 37.5 hours – and no more than 47 – per week.

The ballot opened today (4 December) and closes on 21 December.

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