WORKFORCE: A lockout of NHS pathology staff at Northampton General Hospital over a pay dispute will continue into next week.

Trust representatives and members of the Unite union failed to reach any agreement to end the dispute during talks yesterday with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and a second meeting is scheduled for next Thursday.

As a result 53 staff will remain unable to enter the hospital’s pathology lab. They were locked out on Thursday 27 June.

Unite members were due to begin industrial action short of a strike over a new contract which would see some workers lose salary and face working more night shifts.

The union has claimed the trust’s action is a risk to patient safety and could lead to delays in test results. The trust has argued it took the steps in order to protect patients as it was unclear what work union members would refuse as part of the industrial action.

The dispute is centred on changes to pay, terms and conditions and reductions to on call and out of hours payments.

Unite says the new contract could leave staff working double the number of nightshifts, with out of hours payments cut by 80 per cent.

The trust admits some staff would suffer a drop in overall salary but said 94 per cent of staff at the trust had accepted the new terms and conditions.

In a statement, Northampton said: “Turnaround times for urgent tests have not been affected and most departments have not noticed any impact. Patient safety has not been compromised at any time.

“We had a productive meeting with ACAS and regional Unite representatives today and a further discussion has been scheduled for next week.”

Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary said: “Our members will not be starved back to work, we will do what it takes and offer the financial support needed to get them through this callous and cruel attack on their livelihoods.

“We urge trust management to be ready to negotiate on the proposed new contracts when ACAS talks resume next week. We are calling on the trust to remove the sign or be sacked ultimatum which will see members out of a job by the end of July and allow them back to work with immediate effect.”