UNISON members banded together in protest after receiving proposals from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust (AWP) to cut jobs in the mental health service sector.
Administrative staff have been left outraged fearing that they may lose their jobs come 2019 as AWP have proposed up 78 Band 4 job cuts in the mental health sector.
AWP admin staff and UNISON members believe that jobs cuts could effect the quality and safety of patient care which prompted unified protests across Swindon, Bath, Devizes, Bristol and Salisbury branches yesterday.
Administrative staff based at Sandalwood Court, Swindon, will potentially have to wait until January to confirm whether or not they will have a job in the new year, or be placed in a lower and less paid band. UNISON believes this will have a negative impact on both service users and clinicians who rely on administrative positions.
Michael Sweetman, UNISON regional organiser said: "This is about de-skilling and underfunding mental health services, and that’s what we’re opposed to.
"The trust is currently proposing is to get rid of about 78 of the jobs they currently have posts for, and in some cases they won't be replaced with anything and in others cases positions will be replaced with lower paid and lower skilled jobs. So we think that not only is that wrong for the staff who have worked in these positions, in some cases, for many years and who have built up their knowledge, skills and who know the patients, know the doctors, know the work places and know the areas. We think AWP stand the risk of losing a lot of skill.
"It’s also wrong because this will affect the clinicians who are going to have less time to work face to face with patients, who are then going to be taken away from their core work to do their own admin, and obviously they’re not going to have the specialist skills these workers have built up. It’s also going to have an effect on the patients and the people who need to use the mental health services, because in many cases these staff will be the first people that the service users, or patients, speak to when they first come to the services or when they need to make an appointment.
"We think the trust will stand to save around half £1M a year if they are able to get their way entirely. Although, officially they’ve said this isn’t about cost savings. ‘Officially’ this is about consistency, career progression, and the harmonisation of terms and conditions, – those are the stated official reasons - and UNISON and AWP staff think that’s nonsense. We see that this is about cost saving primarily and we think that it hasn’t been implemented with proper thought.
"We’re asking AWP to shelve the current proposal and to either come back with something substantially different or withdraw it entirely, and we’re hopeful that they will do that – probably in January, but they can withdraw it at any time."
Staff claim that AWP announced new proposals to the administrative structure back in September, but the review charts only became available to them at the start of November.
Carole Harrin, Team Secretary and Administrative Manager, has worked for the NHS for 10 years. She said: "AWP have been trying to get rid of Band 4 staff for a long time – this isn’t the first time they’ve tried this. The whole way it’s been approached – I hesitate to use the word bullying – has put quite a lot of pressure on admin staff.
"One of our major concerns is the impact on patient safety. We’ve built up quite an extensive knowledge of our service. I know quite a lot about the history of patients and that continuity’s not going to be there.
"I’ve got no idea what’s happening. I’ve worked for 10 years for the NHS and I’ve brought a lot of skills to the job and I’m really happy to work for the NHS to use those skills to help patients and to help the nurses and the doctors do their job.
"I see my role as making sure the boxes are ticked, so the clinicians can focus on what their role is. You can’t afford to mess it up – if you put punctuation in the wrong place or use the wrong wording it can have a significant impact. We do the basics, which means that the experts can do their job. What’s the point in paying a consultant more than £80,000 a year to sit and type their own records? It’s just ridiculous."
By cutting jobs staff have been left unsure as to whether or not the new system will require them to apply for new positions which will mean colleagues at Sadalwood Court will be applying for the same jobs.
Carole added: “We’ve got to get through Christmas without knowing if we have a job in the new year. Then we have to go through the formal process of knowing whether or not we have to apply for a job under the new structure
"We’re in a situation where five colleagues of mine, who are here protesting, might all be applying to the same job, so I’m having to go against my colleagues for a job. It makes it very very difficult. I’ve worked for over 40 years and this very much feels like we’re going back to a typing pool.”
AWP's proposals for a new administrative structure not only threaten job cuts but increase pressure on mental health services.
Michael Sweetman said: "What’s upset people is the publication of the chart, because that shows the numbers – the reduction of the number in Band 4 jobs is what’s upsetting everybody. That’s the point where it’s really escalated.
"This goes against the rhetoric which the government came out both about how seriously they take mental health and the fact that there’s extra funding for the NHS – this is the reality of what’s happening in a mental health trust.
“We hope to send a message to AWP that there is a widescale opposition to this. We’re really giving the trust this opportunity to withdraw or change the proposal because if they don’t then when it gets to the new year, we’ll be balloting people to see if they’re willing to take industrial action including strike action."