Published: 14/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5796 Page 7

Medical secretaries in Sunderland are on strike in pursuit of a regrading claim.

Around 90 medical secretaries at City Hospitals Sunderland trust were set to strike for four days this week, after spending three days on the picket line last week. They are seeking an upgrade to grade four in a dispute that echoes industrial action last year by medical secretaries in Scotland and Liverpool.

But a threatened strike at Northumbria Healthcare trust was called off this week after the trust offer to award medical secretaries grade three, plus four increments with retention of their proficiency payments.

Unison Northern regional head of health Liz Twist welcomed the trust's willingness to negotiate.

She said the offer would effectively put the secretaries 'near the top of grade four' and the dispute was 'all but settled'.

A trust spokesperson said: 'Our discussions with Unison continue in an effort to resolve the dispute over medical secretaries' grading.

We are disappointed that a number of proposals put to Unison, including the offered a formal joint review of the roles and the right of an appeal hearing at trust board level, have been turned down.'

Unison has also issued notice it will ballot medical secretaries at South Tyneside Healthcare and South Durham Healthcare trusts, also over regrading claims.

Meanwhile, Britain's largest private sector acute hospital provider, General Healthcare Group, has signed a landmark union rights deal with the Royal College of Nursing under the 1999 Employment Relations Act.

GHG, which includes BMI Hospitals and psychiatric care provider Partnerships in Care, employs 4,000 nurses. The voluntary recognition agreement covers registered nurses, nurse cadets and healthcare assistants with NVQ level-3 qualifications.

Pay, hours and holidays will now be subject to collective bargaining between union and employer, along with equal opportunities, sickness procedures and continuing professional development.

RCN senior employment relations advisor Karen Didovich said: 'This is an important agreement for all of us - GHG is a significant group.'