'Flagrant and wasteful use of taxpayers' money'

NHS bosses waste taxpayers’ money on prolonging Lancashire biomedical scientist pay upgrade dispute, says Unite

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Wasteful bosses could spend three times as much undermining a strike by biomedical scientists at a Lancashire NHS trust in an upgrading pay row than it would cost to settle, Unite the union said.

Unite said that the management at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust could spend up to £150,000 in trying to mitigate the impact of the strike by the 21 biomedical scientists when it would cost £50,000 to settle the 2019 pay upgrade deal that the management had reneged on.

Unite estimates that if the industrial action went on for three months the trust would spend more than £40,000 a month in paying overtime payments for additional shifts to non-Unite biomedical scientists, as well as to managers who are being brought in to break the strike.

Unite said the tens of thousands of pounds being spent at the Royal Blackburn Hospital and the Burnley General Teaching Hospital was ‘a flagrant and wasteful use of taxpayers’ money at a time of national crisis in the health service’.

Unite said that its 21 members were owed back pay of between several hundred pounds to £8,000, as managers had failed to honour an agreement in 2019 to upgrade them from band 5 to band 6 on the Agenda for Change (AfC) scale. The back pay issue goes back as far as 2010 for some members.

The biomedical scientists, who analyse patient blood samples, have been striking during night, weekend and late shifts since May 7 and are due to step up their action by striking continuously from just past midnight on Monday, May 31 until 6.59am Monday, June 21-  the new strike action means that they will be striking all day for three weeks.

Unite has warned that the new strikes will increase pressure on whether the accident and emergency department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital will be able to remain open in June.

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said, “The trust management called a meeting to tell us that they were not negotiating – but are prepared to spend up to £150,000 to undermine our members’ strike action by paying overtime for extra shift payments to non-Unite biomedical scientists, as well drafting in managers to undermine the strike.

“To settle this dispute, which the management originally agreed to at the end of 2019 to combat the recruitment and retention crisis in the profession, would cost £50,000 in back pay,” he added.

“The fact that the management is playing hard ball is a flagrant and wasteful use of taxpayers’ money at a time of national crisis. This is another example of the litany of bad faith that this trust is making into an art form. It is prolonging this strike unnecessarily which is not in the public interest.

“We call, once again, for constructive talks to settle this dispute so that our members can receive the back payments they are legitimately due from the 2019 agreement.”

Unite said that it negotiated an agreement at the end of 2019 for the uplift with the trust management in a bid to tackle the retention crisis which has seen underpaid biomedical scientists voting with their feet and moving to other trusts in the north west that pay the correct AfC scale.

Unite said that after the upgrade was agreed with the trust it was then put ‘on hold’ as an act of goodwill during the worst of the pandemic – but now the management is refusing to honour the deal and pay the difference between bands 5 and 6.

This amounts from several hundred pounds up to £8,000, depending on an individual’s circumstances.

By Shaun Noble

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