Managers have played down the significance of an employment appeal tribunal ruling hailed as a major boost for family-friendly policies by union leaders.

The Royal College of Nursing claimed last week that the Bristol ruling in favour of two nurses made redundant by Wiltshire Healthcare trust would have major implications for the NHS.

Nurses Alison Hale and Christine Clunie worked night shifts at a Melksham Hospital for 10 years. The RCN claimed they were made redundant after the trust introduced an internal rotation shift system that made their childcare unworkable.

The tribunal found the trust had discriminated against married women under section 3 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

But Andrew Foster, chair of the NHS Confederation's human resources committee, said: 'The tribunal finding in favour of these two women was based on process - it found the shift pattern was actually beneficial for staff.

'What this shows is that if trusts are doing these things, they need to check and double check to make sure they are beyond criticism.'

Wiltshire Healthcare trust is taking legal advice on an appeal.