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London theatre nurses to strike in working hours dispute

Dozens of nurses at a central London hospital trust will go on strike later this week over shift times, the union Unite has announced.

A total of 50 day surgery nurses at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust will walk out on 27 June and 2 July with “further industrial action” on the horizon if the dispute is not resolved.

“Guy’s and St Thomas’ theatre nurses were already running on fumes”

Sharon Graham

The dispute, according to the union, centres around “chronically overworked” nurses having the end of their shift extended from 8pm to 9pm, a move it said was “compromising patient safety”.

Unite said this extension to working hours came after these nurses previously had their shift end times changed from 7pm to 8pm, and were made to work Saturdays to accommodate additional theatre lists aimed at reducing patient waiting lists.

The extension of surgery hours at Guy’s and St Thomas’ comes as pressure continues to mount on hospitals to reduce waiting lists for surgery and other areas.

An anonymous theatre nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ said: “Staff in the day surgery units at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals are striking because they are tired of having their concerns over burnout and patient safety repeatedly ignored by managers.

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“The situation has now reached crisis point, with nurses feeling like they have no option but to strike to protect themselves and their patients.”

A&E nurse and Unite branch secretary at the trust Mark Boothroyd said efforts to clear the backlog should not be done “at the expense” of staff.

“The extension to shift times is part of the trust management’s attempts to get more operations through theatres and reduce the backlog,” said Mr Boothroyd.

“They can’t do this at the expense of staff. We need the government to put more investment into the NHS, and to NHS staff wages.

“They can’t keep pushing NHS workers to do more with the same meagre resources.”

The Labour Party, favourites to win next month’s general election, suggested evening and weekend appointments as a means to reach a target of 40,000 more appointments every week.

A similar policy idea was floated earlier this year by The Times Health Commission, which pointed to Guy’s and St Thomas’ weekend high intensity theatre (HIT) lists as a possible model to be rolled out further.

However, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added, regarding the upcoming strike: “Guy’s and St Thomas’ theatre nurses were already running on fumes.

“They were working beyond their shifts to ensure patients were cared for properly.

“Our members understand the pressure the NHS is under but working staff until they break is not the answer.

“Guy’s and St Thomas’ leadership must find another way. Unite is dedicated to protecting the jobs, pay and conditions and the workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ have the union’s total support throughout this dispute.”

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A spokesperson for the trust said talks were already underway with Unite and called on the union to call off the strikes.

“We are disappointed that Unite are continuing with these strikes while constructive talks are ongoing,” the spokesperson said.

“We would urge them to call off this action so we can continue making progress on improving the shift patterns for our highly valued and important theatre nurses.

“We are working closely with colleagues to plan for the impact of this strike, and any changes to patient care will be communicated directly to patients and via our usual public channels as appropriate.”

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