The threat of industrial action in the medical secretaries' long-running pay and grading dispute appears to be receding as negotiations continue with trust managers this week.

Unison officials representing around 100 secretaries at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals trust were today due to go to the Arbitration and Conciliation Service with trust senior managers, who say they are hoping for a 'positive outcome'. And there are also signs of progress in the disputes at Lothian University Hospitals trust and North Glasgow University Hospital trust - the only Unison branches in Scotland to reject the national framework offer made during the summer.

Industrial action at Lothian has been postponed - despite a vote for a walk-out earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Unison said managers had 'clarified' a number of issues stemming from the framework offer and he was hoping the dispute could be resolved.

And at North Glasgow - the scene of the most acrimonious dispute - there are also signs of progress.

Unison branch secretary Carolyn Leckie said: 'Negotiations are at quite a sensitive stage. . . We are in discussions with the trust, but there is no firm offer on the table, nothing that we can put to our members. So we are expecting to go out on strike this week.'

A trust spokesperson said it was in 'everybody's interest to bring the dispute to an end'.As HSJ went to press, further negotiations were taking place.

But action among Cumberland Infirmary ancillary staff - who claim their employer Interserve FM has created a two-tier pay structure - has been stepped up, with around 200 workers refusing to clean public areas.

From the middle of this week, union members withdrew cleaning services from the trust's HQ, education centre and walkways and lifts. There is a ban on handling soiled laundry, and domestic staff are refusing to serve drinks unless accompanied by a nurse.

Interserve FM managers, who claim the company has not budgeted for the pay rises the unions are demanding, insist the door is open to further negotiation.

Interserve general manager Steve Nightingale said he was assessing the scale of the industrial action, but had contingency plans to bring in agency staff if necessary.But talks with the union were scheduled, Mr Nightingale said, and he hoped the sides could 'have further discussions and move forward'.