More NHS strikes as WWL boss hits back

Hundreds of hospital staff strike, as Unison hold a rally against proposals to move some NHS staff at Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh hospitals to subsidiary firm WWL Solutions, held at Believe Square, Wigan
Hundreds of hospital staff strike, as Unison hold a rally against proposals to move some NHS staff at Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh hospitals to subsidiary firm WWL Solutions, held at Believe Square, Wigan

Unions have announced two more strike days for workers at the borough’s hospitals embroiled in a furious dispute over their employment status.

Estates and facilities staff at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust will walk out again for 48 hours from 6am on Friday June 8 and running until 6am on Sunday June 10.

The dispute is over moving 900 staff to subsidiary firm WWL Solutions and after two days of strike action this week Unison is calling on health bosses to drop the idea.

However, WWL chief executive Andrew Foster released a statement making a number of accusations about unions and staff.

Lizanne Devonport, Unison North West regional organiser, said: “There is phenomenal opposition to the Trust’s outsourcing plan and tremendous support for the staff who have taken strike action.

“The Trust has underestimated how strongly its workforce feels about their proposal and how important it is for them to remain as 100 per cent NHS workers.

“There is also political pressure for this plan to be stopped with Lisa Nandy MP giving strong public support to strikers and Jo Platt MP raising this in Parliament.

“Andrew Foster and the Trust board now need to show some humility and leadership and withdraw this toxic proposal.

“It is simply unacceptable to staff that they should be moved out of the NHS to a private company. The Trust needs to find another way forward or risk entering a prolonged dispute.”

However, Mr Foster’s defiant comments suggested little appetite for a re-think.

He said: “During the industrial action we have seen how the WWL family has pulled together to ensure patient care remains at the forefront of everything we do.

“Thank you to all the volunteers and estates and facilities staff who have worked to keep disruption to our services to a minimum.

“On the first day of the action WWL performance was the best it has been for two years, with only one patient waiting over the four-hour target in A&E.

“No operations or appointments were cancelled and patients were positive in their feedback, reporting no disruption to services or care. The only inconvenience was the closure of the shop.

“However, I am disappointed there have been some incidents of obstructive behaviour.

“Urinals have been blocked with paper, cleaning materials have gone missing from wards and departments, damage has been found in public disabled toilets and lights have been tampered with.

“We also believe quite a lot of the people on the picket line were not WWL staff.

“It has given us an opportunity to look at ways to better improve our services. This can only be a good thing when it comes to serving our patients.

“WWL has been notified that the next round of industrial action will take place between Friday June 8 until Sunday June 10. We will again be asking for internal volunteers to cover the roles affected by the strike during this time.

“Once again, I would like to reassure patients, visitors and staff that services will continue as normal but please bear with us as there may be minimal disruption during the strike.”

The Wigan campaign is growing in significance, with national trade union leaders suggesting they will visit the borough for the second round of industrial action.

The row was also mentioned in the House of Commons after Labour’s shadow health minister Jon Ashworth tabled a debate on NHS privatisation.

Further support for the staff on the picket line in the borough came from the National Health Action (NHA) Party, a political organisation set up to campaign on the issue of maintaining a fully public health service.

Dr Louise Irvine, the party’s secretary and a registered GP, said:“We wholly support the hardworking staff at WWL in their struggle to not be transferred to the private sector where their working conditions will be undermined.

“The growth of these subsidiaries puts our NHS in danger.

“The NHS works best for patients when staff are working together as a team.

“The creation of a subsidiary at the Trust would lead to the creation of a two-tier workforce.

“It would undermine staff morale, it would have a negative impact upon the quality of care and would exacerbate a retention crisis that is gripping the NHS as a result of Tory spending cuts.”