• GMB balloting members at St George’s Hospital for strike action
  • Union claims Mitie wants to reduce staff allocated to cleaning operating theatres
  • Company says around 40 roles from 650 will be made redundant

A union is balloting its members over strike action at a hospital trust, amid claims the number of staff cleaning theatres is being cut.

The GMB union, which represents roughly half the staff at St George’s University Hospitals Foundation Trust, said it had seen details that theatre-cleaning teams, which are often four people, will in some cases be cut to two or three. 

Mitie, which recently won the 10-year contract for estates and facilities services at the south London trust, has confirmed to HSJ it is planning to cut around 40 jobs from its workforce of 650 and said teams would be larger or smaller “depending on the size/needs of the theatre”.

The trust has 31 operating theatres and a refurbishment programme was started in 2016. The poor condition of many of the theatres was noted by previous Care Quality Commission inspections. The trust has had a £27m capital programme approved for 2019-20, although part of this is earmarked for addressing legionella issues that saw two patients infected over recent years.

A Mitie spokeswoman said the “cleaning input” would remain the same, but added: “These changes are focussed on reorganising the structure of the working day, to ensure that resource is in line with clinical activity to ensure that we have teams present at the times when we need them – ie undertaking the main cleaning of the operating theatres towards the end of the day and/or evenings when they are free.”

The company said some of the roles it was removing were part-time and it hoped to redeploy some of the people affected and create more full-time roles.

But GMB regional organiser Helen O’Connor said the company was trying to increase its profit margins.

She said: “There is no redundancy situation in that the employer’s need for staff has diminished or ceased. The exact opposite is the case. The staff are working flat out.

“It is the board of the NHS trust that should be guarding against these risks. They should consider these proposals from Mitie to be a fundamental breach of contract and return the service back into direct employment.”

A trust spokesman said: “We are aware of the consultation Mitie is undertaking with staff, as well as the ongoing discussions with GMB.

“The consultation is due to finish later this month, and our focus continues to remain on ensuring we provide a first-rate catering and cleaning service for staff and patients.”

GMB’s ballot closes on Friday.