ANGRY Wigan Infirmary lab staff look set to paralyse hospital services after union chiefs warned that strike action may now be unavoidable.
Biomedical scientists at Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) have voted to reject an improved offer from health chiefs who want to send employees to Salford and downgrade their pay bands.
The result means industrial action is looking increasingly likely and would mean Wigan Infirmary could come to a standstill, with only the most life-threatening emergencies being able to be carried out.
What has complicated the issue further is that the Salford laboratory – where work would be conducted for Wigan hospitals should health chiefs go ahead with the changes – failed a regular Clinical Pathology Accreditation (CPA) inspection last week casting doubts over its suitability.
Some 60 staff, who are employed by Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust (SRFT), conduct all diagnostic tests (such as blood and urine samples) at all three Wigan hospitals and Salford Royal Hospital.
In September this year they voted to strike over plans to slash the pay and terms and conditions by up to £6,000 a year, which union bosses say was the last straw for most staff.
However, after union chiefs agreed to stall any strike action so negotiations could continue, employees have once again voted to reject the latest improved offer put forward.
They have also endured a three-year pay freeze, a cut in payments for working unsocial hours and imposed increases in their pension contributions say Unite.
There has also previously been criticism from some experts about the medical and logistical sense in sending blood and other samples 15 miles through heavy traffic to Salford for tests that are currently carried out on site at Wigan.
Unite regional officer Gary Owen said: “During the negotiations regarding proposed new staff structuring for pathology services in Wigan and Salford it became apparent that a CPA check cast doubt on the suitability of present services which may have been detrimental with regard to negotiations in present restructuring.
“However, on further investigations this may not be the case and so it leaves us in the position we were previously. Despite a couple of improved offers to our members, they have been rejected in a consultative ballot.
“I will therefore be meeting with members from both Wigan and Salford this week and unfortunately industrial action cannot be ruled out at this time.”
However, bosses at SRFT say the shortcomings in Salford will be rectified by January next year.
A spokesman for Pathology at Wigan and Salford said: “The Biochemistry Laboratory at Royal Albert Edward Infirmary had a CPA visit in February 2012 and was fully accredited.
“This accreditation will remain valid until the physical relocation of Blood Sciences to Salford, planned for March 2013.
“The Biochemistry Laboratory based on Salford Royal’s site received a CPA inspection in October 2012.
“This visit highlighted some non-conformity and, although several areas of good practice were reported on including testing processes and quality control, this led to the Biochemistry Laboratory gaining “conditional accreditation.”
“It is important to note that all other laboratories on both Wigan and Salford sites have full accreditation.
The non-conformity highlighted at Salford Royal’s Biochemistry Laboratory will be addressed by January 2013, when we will have another CPA inspection and expect to regain the full accreditation.”