UNISON urges Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Trust to drop 12 hour shift plans to avoid porters strike

Public service union UNISON has told management at the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) hospital that a two-day porters strike can be averted if plans for 12 hour shifts are scrapped. Portering staff in UNISON currently plan to strike for 24 hours from 06:00 on 20 October. This will be followed by an eight hour action from 22:00 on 22 October.

In a clear signal to the Trust 96% of porters voted to strike over a disagreement with hospital management that has lasted over a year. Hospital porters currently work 8 hour shifts and view the management demand for 12 hour working patterns as unachievable and unsafe. UNISON has raised concerns over the effect of increased sickness and fatigue on patient care, as well as the impact on older members of staff and the behaviour of Trust managers.

Management have stated 12 hour shifts are necessary to increase efficiency. A report commissioned by the Trust and seen by UNISON shows that portering services at the RD&E are among the cheapest to operate in the country, costing 50% less than the NHS average.

UNISON remains hopeful that hospital management will avoid the strike by withdrawing the 12 hour shift proposals and working with the union and staff on a more inclusive review to improve portering services.

UNISON Regional Organiser for Devon Oliver Foster-Burnell said:

“UNISON has told Trust management all along this matter can be solved if managers listen to the porters and look at good practice in hospitals like Plymouth. We cannot understand the rationale for introducing 12 hour shifts when the Trust’s own reports point to alternative ways to improve the service. Instead managers have kept up their poor reputations among staff by ploughing on in the face of evidence.

“Voting for strike action is always a last resort and was a hard decision for these porters. But the damage to patient care that will be caused by 12 hour shifts means the porters can’t accept the plans as they stand. Portering is a tough, physical job. One trip with a 600lb hospital bed means stopping and starting about twelve times and walking up to fourteen miles per shift.

“Hospital managers need to be honest about the risks to patients and staff from 12 hour shifts. Tired porters make mistakes. They’re also less able to do the thousand extra tasks, like looking out for patients on the wards, that make porters such a valued group by other staff. Porters are the eyes and ears of the hospital! Strikes are a last resort but unless the Trust listens to the concerns porters have raised all the way through, they don’t have another choice.”

A UNISON Representative said;

“I love my job and have been a porter at the Trust for fifteen years. I do not understand why my managers cannot see there is a sensible solution to improving efficiency in the hospital which will result in us providing the same, if not better quality service to patients. We’ve told them time and time again. It isn’t that we are being stubborn, we simply cannot achieve 12 hour shifts safely for staff and patients and that is why so many of us have voted to take action.

“We don’t want to strike but we feel managers haven’t listened to our concerns. We are calling on the Trust to scrap the proposals for 12 hour shifts and work with us to explore alternatives”.