GUERNSEY RCN NURSES VOTE FOR STRIKE OVER PAY – for only the second time in 103 years!

Guernsey RCN rally where nurses rejected the 5% pay offer

NURSES in Guernsey have voted to go on strike as part of an ongoing battle for better pay, however a date will not yet be set. The Royal College of Nursing has announced that for only the second time in its 103-year history, members have voted to take strike action.

The ballot, which closed last Friday after three weeks, saw 61% of RCN members turning out to vote. Results showed that 95% voted for action short of strike and 86% voted to strike.

However, the RCN has stated that it will not yet set a date for action while talks remain positive.

As previously reported, unions involved in the dispute met with the States of Guernsey on Thursday and Friday last week to try and find a way through the deadlock.

The row in Guernsey centres on concerns that nurses’ pay falls behind that of other public sector workers on the island.

Since the start of last year, the States of Guernsey has made four separate pay offers to unions representing Agenda for Change staff, all of which were rejected.

The dispute involves the unions the RCN, Royal College of Midwives, Unite and Prospect, however the RCN was the only one to hold a ballot.

Commenting on the result, RCN regional director Patricia Marquis said she was ‘exceptionally proud’ of the college’s members.

‘Each and every one who took the time to vote were doing so to have their say on the future of nursing and healthcare in Guernsey.’

She said the results of the ballot ‘speak for themselves’ but explained that the college remained ‘cautiously optimistic’ that it could work through the dispute without having to take strike action.

‘Given the positive nature of the talks, we remain cautiously optimistic that we can find a way forward without having to take industrial action,’ said Marquis.

‘However, we must be clear: if the talks do not provide the solution that our members are seeking, we will notify the States of our intention to strike.’

She reiterated that the RCN was hoping to ‘shape a deal that addresses members’ concerns about the ongoing disparity between nursing pay and that of others in Guernsey’.

‘It is essential that this is addressed to ensure a sustainable nursing workforce that will continue to deliver the highest quality health and social care service for the people of Guernsey,’ added Marquis.

The unions and the States of Guernsey will next be meeting on 18 March.

Marquis said she hoped this meeting would enable the college to ‘continue to find a solution together’.

A joint statement has been issued on behalf of the union and Policy & Resources Committee, who are leading negotiations on behalf of States of Guernsey.

‘The RCN, RCM, Unite and Prospect who represent staff employed on Agenda for Change terms and conditions, along with the States of Guernsey as employer, met over two days on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 February,’ it said.

‘Talks were constructive and parties feel progress has been made; we continue to be cautiously optimistic around the progress of these talks. As a result all parties have agreed to further talks on 18th March 2020.’

Meanwhile a nurse was unfairly sacked after warning that the crippling workload on NHS staff had led to a patient’s death, a tribunal has ruled.

Linda Fairhall, an NHS nurse since 1979, claimed district nurses were being put under an unfair strain due to new duties placed upon them in 2013.

She warned that asking the nurses to monitor patient prescriptions on top of their existing duties placed them under unfair strain and risked patients’ lives.

Fairhall claimed her concerns were vindicated following the ‘preventable’ death of a patient in October 2016.

She began the whistleblowing process but discovered on her return to work from leave that she had been sacked for ‘concerns’ about her leadership capabilities.

However, a report by the Care Quality Commission had commended Fairhall for her leadership qualities the previous year.

An employment tribunal today ruled she was unfairly dismissed after 38 years service with North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust.

A remedies hearing in July will consider how much compensation she should be paid.

From 2008, senior nurse Fairhall was employed as a clinical care co-ordinator for the Stockton region and then transferred to Hartlepool in June 2013.

Later that year she raised concerns over the then-new requirement for district nurses to monitor patients’ prescriptions.

She said it meant a sudden increase of around 1,000 extra visits a month for the service with no extra resources available.

Over the next 10 months, she reported 13 instances where she claimed the health or safety of patients and staff was being or was likely to be put at risk.

Fairhall, who oversaw a team of around 50 district nurses, was concerned about their workload, employee stress and sickness, as well as risk to patients.

The death of a patient in 2016 prompted a meeting where Fairhall expressed the view that it may have been prevented if any of the 13 cases she had reported had been listened to.

Later the same month, she told the trust’s care group director Julie Parks that she wished to instigate the formal whistle-blowing procedure before going on annual leave.

But, on her return to work on October 31, she was told she had been suspended over allegations of potential gross misconduct relating to her leadership.

She remained suspended for 18 months and during this period she also battled her own personal tragedies, the hearing was told.

She was still recovering from breast cancer treatment, her teenage son was also unwell and eight months into the suspension, her partner died from a heart attack.

After various investigations and appeals, Fairhall was dismissed in April 2018.

The employment tribunal found the trust’s investigation into her alleged misconduct to be ‘inadequate and unreasonable in all the circumstances of the case’.

The judgment said: ‘Witnesses referred to little more than ‘themes’ or ‘perceptions’ by the staff, none of which contained a level of detail which would have enabled Fairhall to respond.

‘The tribunal found that no reasonable employer, in all circumstances of the case, would have conducted the investigation in this manner.’

The tribunal also criticised the trust for not giving a ‘meaningful or adequate’ explanation of why the suspension lasted 18 months.

It said it was an ‘inordinate and unreasonable length of time for an employee of the claimant’s superiority and length of service to be suspended’.

The judgment added: ‘The trust’s decision to dismiss the claimant fell outside the range of reasonable responses open to an employer in all circumstances of the case.

‘This was an employee of 38 years unblemished service who was suspended from her role in circumstances where that suspension was unjustified and unreasonable.

‘The trust has failed to establish that she committed any act of misconduct which could justify dismissal.’

Fairhall said she was ‘absolutely devastated’ by the effect it has had on her life.

She said: ‘I have been utterly humiliated, my life has been left in chaos and my professional integrity has been questioned leaving my reputation irreparably damaged.

‘I am devastated that after almost 40 years in a career I have been passionate about, and working in an organisation that I have always been proud to be part of, that I am left in this situation.

‘As a result of the impact on my physical and mental health it has been necessary to allow my professional registration to lapse and come to terms and grieve for the loss of my career.

‘I will no longer be working as a nurse due to the fear of being able to escalate concerns.

‘I would therefore deem myself as being unable to adhere to my professional code of conduct and potentially place patient care at risk.’

A spokesman for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust said: ‘We acknowledge the ruling and intend to appeal the decision.’

Thrive Law, which represented Fairhall, said the impact on their client was ‘profound’.

‘She no longer is able to work and has lost her career as a nurse,’ said a spokesperson.

‘This all arose from her trying to protect patient and staff safety and reporting genuine concerns she had.’