Healthcare assistants (HCAs) at two NHS trusts in the North West of England are striking this week in a widening campaign by the union Unison to win better pay for HCAs nationally.
HCAs at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust will be taking part in their third round of strikes, while HCAs at Warrington and Halton NHS Foundation Trust will be walking out for the first time.
“Most of these employees have worked well above their pay band for many years”
This action is part of a campaign by Unison to up-band HCAs – and those in similar roles like clinical support workers (CSWs), nursing assistants, theatre support workers and maternity support workers – at trusts across the country from band 2 to band 3.
While Wirral University Teaching Hospital and Warrington and Halton have both agreed to up-band staff, disagreement remains over backpay.
Unison wants the HCAs to be given backpay to April 2018, to reflect the clinical – not just personal care – work they have been performing for years.
The union said its work through the campaign had led to seven other trusts in the North West meeting these demands in recent months.
More on the Unison campaign
More than 300 HCAs at Warrington and Halton are now set to strike from 7am on Thursday (28 September) until 8am on Saturday (30 September).
Angela Blundell, a Unison North West regional organiser, said of that dispute: “Staff have done all they can to resolve the issue in a reasonable way.
“They’d much rather the trust made an offer in line with solutions reached at hospitals elsewhere in the North West.
“Most of these employees have worked well above their pay band for many years. It’s time the trust did the right thing.
“Paying them fairly would avoid any strike action and prevent disillusioned staff leaving the NHS for better paid jobs elsewhere.”
A healthcare assistant at Halton Hospital, who did not want to be named, said they had been carrying out band 3-equivalent clinical duties “for years”. These included taking electrocardiograms (ECGs), urine tests, bloods and patient observations.
They said: “The pay difference is almost £2,000 a year. Other trusts in the North West have given their HCAs backpay to April 2018. All we’re asking is to be treated the same.
“Currently, there has been no offer of backpay. Healthcare assistants have been left with no option but to strike. Nobody wants to withdraw their labour but this is our last resort.”
“We have consistently stated that we want to work in partnership with Unison to reach an agreement”
A Warrington and Halton spokesperson said the trust was “committed” to up-banding the relevant staff, and that around 80% of its HCAs would be uplifted from band 2 to band 3 from 1 October.
“This reflects the different roles required across different parts of the organisation and the individual preferences of our healthcare support workers,” they said.
In term of backpay, the spokesperson said the trust had set up a working group to “explore the issue of retrospective pay banding in the detail it deserves”.
“The group includes healthcare support workers and local trade union representatives and is aiming to establish a fair way to resolve this complex issue as quickly as possible,” they added.
“Unfortunately, despite this commitment to work in partnership with trade unions, regional Unison colleagues have decided to pursue strike action. Whilst this is regrettable, we will continue to work to find a resolution for our healthcare support workers.”
Wirral University Teaching Hospital has also agreed to up-band CSWs, but this has not happened yet due to lack of agreement on backpay.
The most recent offer from the trust was for a non-consolidated payment to CSWs based on length of service, which it believed provided a “simplified” resolution to the backpay issue. This was rejected by Unison.
The Wirral dispute so far:
David McKnight, also a North West Unison organiser, said: “The case for moving these workers on higher bands is obvious, yet the trust is dragging its feet.
“These workers have been taken for granted for too long and the latest offer from the trust is an insult, falling well short of what staff are owed.”
CSWs are striking at the trust’s Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge Hospitals with more than 500 staff expected to take part in this latest round, which began this morning.
They will be walking out for 25 hours at a time, starting at 7am today, Wednesday (27 September) and Friday (29 September).
This comes after strike action at Wirral University Teaching Hospital in August and earlier this month as part of the same dispute.
Wirral University Teaching Hospital chief nurse Tracy Fennell said: “We have consistently stated that we want to work in partnership with Unison to reach an agreement on this matter and end the dispute.
“On 7 September 2023 we made a revised offer to Unison, which we believe would provide all staff involved with a fair and speedy resolution to this dispute.
“The offer included a non-consolidated payment based on length of service, to be paid in November 2023. In addition, the revised offer was made for all clinical support workers, without the requirement for staff to undertake onerous evidence collection and assessment processes.
“Furthermore, we intend to invest in our clinical support worker workforce by creating a significant number of new band 3 posts. We would aim to have this in place by 1 December 2023.”
She added that the trust was “disappointed” that Unison had declined to put the most recent offer to a vote with members, and that it had also turned down the trust’s request of enlisting the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) for help to resolve the dispute.