Bolton hospital – fighting mass redundancies

Andy Ford, Unite NHS rep

Bolton Hospital announced the redundancy of around 500 staff in November, along with a proposal to dismiss and re-engage nursing staff on longer shifts.

I spoke to one of the union reps at the hospital: “The redundancies were announced on 13 November – 500 staff out of 5,500 – along with a proposal to dismiss nursing staff and re-engage them on 11.5 hour shifts with two half-hour unpaid breaks.”

Over the following weeks the threat of dismissal and re-engagement was withdrawn and instead three wards are going onto a voluntary pilot of the longer shifts. Of course some managers went out to the staff, telling them the unions had agreed that they could be forced onto it, and the joint unions had to insist that it actually was voluntary.

Between November and December the local stewards held mass meetings all across the hospital – members attended when they could get away from busy wards, clinics and labs.

“When the redundancies had been formally issued in November we found mistakes in the process – they had issued redundancies, but the formal consultation papers weren’t ready. The unions called an all-reps meeting with management – we had a really great showing of reps from all over the hospital,

excellent unity between the different unions, and they eventually got the papers out 14 December.

“But then we found ourselves trying to do 21 formal consultations in the week before Christmas – it was bordering on the impossible. HR were rushing all over the hospital, as were the reps, as well as trying to do our own jobs. And HR are set for 20% redundancies themselves!”

Management at the hospital tried to push their plans through by setting a deadline of 18 January for union submissions, which was rejected by the joint unions. There were numerous questions about the impact on quality of care, and of the impact on equality of staff.

“It looks to us as if each department has been told to find a certain sum of money out of staffing budgets to cover the Trust’s deficit – Nursing loses 6% of its staff, Allied Health Professionals (radiographers, dieticians, physiotherapists) lose 15%, Estates and Facilities (maintenance, porters, domestics) lose 20% and Admin and Clerical lose 20%.”

These percentages seem to reflect the tired old idea that some cuts – to the ‘back office’ are more acceptable than cutting the ‘front line’. No! All cuts must be opposed.

There is huge anger among the staff. After years of penny-pinching 2-3% efficiency savings it has suddenly emerged that the Trust is £38 million in deficit because of artificial problems in contracts for the hospital for clinical work it has done.

The deficit is entirely an artefact of the internal market. The Trust even had to borrow £8 million from the government to pay staff wages!

People are fighting back. A march before Christmas brought hundreds of workers together with the public and patients, and another protest has been called in January to coincide with a royal visit to open a maternity unit – just as 50 midwives face redundancy!