Union members at an Eastbourne hospital ward are to ballot for potential strike action after it closed.
Folkington Ward, a mixed dementia care and discharge planning ward, was shut by the trust which runs the DGH and GMB, the union for frontline health care professionals at the hospital, says staff were relocated at short notice.
The union has started a ballot which could see members eventually take industrial action.
The GMB’s Gary Palmer said, “No matter how low the trust set its own bar when it comes to laying out and following a fair and meaningful consultation process, it still manages to fail to achieve it.
“The ballots are a result of breaches to a meaningful consultation process over changes to staff roles during the trust’s multi-site ward transformation proposal.
“The proposed changes would see Folkington’s role at the trust turned from an in-patient discharge ward to delivering acute medical services.
“The front line medical and support staff at Folkington, who are supportive of the trust’s desire and aims to make service provision changes, are among up to 220 staff members who will see possible enforced changes to shift patterns, job roles and areas of work as a result of a 30 day consultation.”
GMB has questioned the legitimacy of the consultation period which saw wards closed and staff dispersed throughout the trust before the consultation period was completed.
The union says one to one meetings to discuss the effect the transition will have on staff unable to make the changes, due to their current roles or work life balances, should they be moved to different areas and roles, have already convened.
“The East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has transferred or discharged patients from Folkington Ward and have now closed it,” said Mr Palmer.
“Staff have been sent out to work throughout the trust with little more than two days’ notice. This comes after the GMB union raised concerns on members’ behalf about the unfair treatment of having to re-apply to work within their own team.”
GMB has also shown concerns over the trust forcing through what it called “mass staffing changes that ignore the fact that around 220 frontline staff face various changes to shift patterns, workplaces and responsibilities, whilst the provision of information around the possibility of staff redundancies is potentially being ignored”.
“This is in order to disregard any legal requirements around an extended consultation period, should the numbers of those potentially finding themselves unable to make the trusts enforced changes upon their work life balance, see much needed nursing staff leave the trust.
The consultative ballot will provide the first step of the industrial dispute process, which should members support it, see after legal notice GMB members undertake a ballot for industrial action and possibly strike action.
Mr Palmer said, “Once again this an unfair, shambolic version of a consultation the trust is delivering to frontline professional staff, who have given their all to achieve trust aims and great patient care on a day to day basis. It offers nothing but stress and worries over a process they needn’t find themselves involved in. Once again, the trust have managed to disenfranchise staff needlessly.
“The trust consistently fails to get their consultations right in respect to staff and their default positions is always that lessons will be learnt going forward.
“The trust has unnecessarily placed staff through a stressful process, when mitigation to minimise the numbers facing change is the best way forward for all, both on Folkington and five other wards across both the Hastings and Eastbourne hospitals sites.”
A hospital spokesperson said, “We are consulting 220 members of staff, across six wards, over two sites about a set of proposals to reconfigure wards. The proposals recognise the seasonal demand for beds and better meets the needs of the local population.
“We are consulting all members of staff who will experience a change in their work as a result of our proposals. Members of staff on Folkington ward are being consulted as their ward is changing speciality. Folkington currently treats patients who are medically fit for discharge. The proposal is that Folkington will become an acute medical ward.
“The consultation period is 30 days and all members of staff will have the opportunity to indicate which roles they would like to be considered for and have been offered individual meetings to discuss their preferences and working patterns. We have committed to ensuring there are no redundancies nor will members of staff be asked to move site.
“We know change can be difficult and disruptive but our focus as always is on providing the best care for patients and the best working environment for staff.”