The first major NHS strike since Labour came to power has been suspended amid allegations of 'bully-boy tactics' by University of Wales Hospital trust.

Fifty-four sterile services staff went back to work at the hospital on Tuesday as managers withdrew a letter telling them they would lose their jobs if they did not return by the start of the week.

Unison regional officer Mike Colley said the letter was hand-delivered to staff on Friday evening, despite a 'long and constructive' meeting with the contractors due to take over sterile services in a privatisation deal.

'Members were due to hold a meeting on Monday to decide whether to suspend action from lunchtime. This letter stopped that happening. Staff were not prepared to return to work with this threat hanging over them,' he said.

But a trust spokesperson claimed it had been a 'victim of political issues' and that the union had been determined to continue the action until this week's European summit in Cardiff.

At least 450 operations were cancelled, adding to the problems of Bro Taf health authority, which has the longest waiting lists and times in Wales. But in an agreed statement with Unison, the trust thanked the sterile services staff for maintaining emergency cover during the dispute.

Unison claims staff took action after failing to get satisfactory assurances about job security and extra pay for flexible working. See News Focus, page 11.