Published: 15/01/2004, Volume II4, No. 5888 Page 9

Nearly 150 nurses in north Cumbria have voted for a one-day strike in a dispute over staffing and workplace safety.

The psychiatric nurses voted by three to one for a walk-out next month as figures released by North Cumbria Mental Health and Learning Disabilities trust confirmed that it had experienced 543 violent incidents in 10 months. This compares to 350 for the same period last year.

Managers at the trust have insisted that staffing levels are not unusually low, but Cumbria's fulltime Unison official Peter Doyle said nurses from Carlisle's Carleton Clinic were forced into action after years of 'fruitless' negotiations.

'There have been broken fingers, bites, punches, headbutts and people having their hair pulled out, ' Mr Doyle said. 'Staff are not prepared to take it any longer.'

North Cumbria Mental Health and Learning Disabilities trust chief executive Stephen Dalton said he believed the new violence figures reflected increased awareness among staff of the need to report incidents, but he said managers were working to improve safety.

'There is nothing extraordinary about staffing levels in North Cumbria - they're not low.' He said that the threatened strike concerned him, but he was 'optimistic that we can find a way forward'.

Mr Dalton said he hoped a review of systems operating in the hospital would produce 'greater efficiency and create a safer environment for staff '.