Sheffield hospitals strike alert: Plans to just treat emergencies

The Accident & Emergency Dept at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital
The Accident & Emergency Dept at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital
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HEALTH chiefs will reduce Sheffield hospital services to cover just emergency and urgent care when thousands of nurses, doctors and other health workers walk out on November 30.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust - which runs the Northern General, Royal Hallamshire, Weston Park, Jessop Wing and Charles Clifford hospitals - will cancel all outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations.

Only emergency procedures and vital care such as chemotherapy and dialysis will be carried out at the five hospitals and bosses are declining all new requests for leave on the day.

Some 7,500 members of Unison will be walking out, including nurses, administrative and domestic workers at the city’s five teaching hospitals, as well as Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

And the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, the Society of Radiographers, and the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists have also returned ballots voting for strike action.

Professor Hilary Chapman, chief nurse and chief operating officer at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “We will of course respect colleagues’ decision to strike or not - but our first priority is patient safety.

“Staff are not obliged to tell us if they will be going on strike and so we are currently discussing cover arrangements to provide emergency and clinically urgent services such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and dialysis on the November 30.

“We will not be running outpatient clinics or performing planned non-urgent operations.

“We continue to have discussions with the trade unions and they are working with the trust in line with national agreements regarding the delivery of services on the day of action.”

Staff who are not on strike will be redeployed to cover areas they are needed - but bosses cannot, by law, use agency staff to cover for the striking workers.

Sheffield Children’s Hospital has not yet finalised its care plan for November 30, but managers have written to parents asking them to check the hospital website in the days before the strike.

John Reid, director of nursing and clinical operations at the Children’s Hospital, said: “We are trying to minimise any disruption to care this action may cause and have written to the parents of children due to come in on that day.

“We are negotiating with the unions about protecting essential services and will know more about the extent of the strike next week.”

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trusts managers are to meet with union staff on November 22 to put together an emergency plan for the day.

A bulletin sent to staff at the hospitals said: “The trust appreciates this is a difficult position for staff to be in, as many will be committed to the services they provide but equally have strong feelings about the proposed pension changes.

“Staff in trade unions with a mandate to take strike action are of course entitled to strike if they choose to do so, but they will not be paid for that day of action.

“If staff plan to come into work and then choose not to cross a picket line this decision will be respected, but will be regarded as strike action, and pay for that day will be lost.”

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, which represents 282 members in Sheffield, returned an 86 per cent ballot supporting the walkout, for the first time in 31 years.

Sheffield physiotherapist Luke Symonds, a CSP steward, said: “Physiotherapy staff are in the frontline of caring for patients and are dedicated professionals, so this was an extremely difficult decision for them to take.

“The message from our members however was loud and clear, we need to take this action to protect our pensions.”

Staff are walking out over plans to switch from final-salary pension plans to a career-average scheme, and rise the retirement age to 68.

The British Medical Association, Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Nursing did not ballot their members for the November 30 walkout, although the RCN has warned they will consider strike action in January if the Government does not take part in ‘credible negotiations’ by the end of the year.