WORKFORCE: More than 50 NHS staff have been locked out of a hospital’s pathology lab in a dispute over pay, terms and conditions.

Northampton General Hospital Trust said it has cancelled the electronic access cards of 53 staff taking part in industrial action which was due to start last week.

Staff were asked to stay at home or protest off the premises for the past five days.

The trust claimed it took the action to safeguard patient safety as it was unclear what work staff would refuse to do. It has brought in additional staff to maintain the service.

Unite, the union leading the action against Northampton, had claimed inexperienced staff were handling tests and said there have been delays since the lockout began.

HSJ has learned the trust and representatives from Unite will meet tomorrow with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in a bid to broker a deal to bring the dispute to an end.

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

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

While the trust admits the changes would lead to a reduction in overall salary for some staff, it said only 53 out of 140 staff in the pathology department had opted for industrial action.

Across the organisation 94 per cent of staff have accepted the new terms and conditions.

In a statement, Northampton said: “Despite intensive consultation with the union and its members over 12 months, a minority of staff chose to take industrial action.

“This action would have led to increased turnaround times for vital emergency samples and potential gaps in our pathology service. That was a risk we were not prepared to take.

“We have a duty to ensure patient services are not affected and that staff who are working can do so in a safe, non-threatening environment. That is the reason staff were asked to leave and protest instead outside the premises.”

Unite regional officer Mick Orpin alleged that the management of Northampton General Hospital was “acting dangerously and recklessly by denying patients the skill and expertise of professional biomedical scientists”.

“Unite has no doubt the trust’s aim all along has been to break our members and deny them a fair chance to have their concerns heard,” he said.

“We are shocked at the viciousness and heavy handedness of the attack on our members.”