We provide high quality healthcare services primarily to the residents of East Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen, which have a combined population in the region of 530,000.
The ongoing dispute between the Trust and some of our colleagues in pathology has been widely reported, so I would like to take this opportunity to provide an update on this matter.
As ever with disagreements of this nature, there are different perspectives which can sometimes lead to different versions of events circulating.
I am keen to ensure patients and members of our community have clarity about what has happened so far and what the team here at ELHT would like to happen next.
It has undoubtedly been a very difficult time for all involved and I am committed to moving this forward to a resolution as soon as possible.
First, let me recap on some key elements of what has happened so far in a bid to provide context:
At this point it is important I also highlight the Trust’s responsibility to make sure that public money is used effectively. The legal advice we have had is that these colleagues are not legally entitled to any further back pay and therefore this would not be considered to be an appropriate use of funds. This would also be the case for any further payments offered by the Trust to resolve this dispute.
Of course, not all of the team took part in the action and many continued to work, covering shifts and ensuring patient safety has not been compromised. To those who have worked extra shifts and the managers who stepped in to provide cover where necessary too I want to say a huge thank you. I would also like to thank our partner Trusts who have provided support in ensuring tests are analysed and results reported without delay and our GP colleagues for their cooperation and understanding during this time. Those contingency measures have enabled urgent tests to be provided for those in our care who needed them.
Amongst all of this, the wellbeing of our workforce has remained a huge priority and we have done everything possible to support all colleagues who are directly or indirectly affected by the dispute. During the summer the Trust and Unite the Union have held conciliation talks with ACAS to try and resolve the dispute, however there was no agreement as to a way forward.
I have to admit I was disappointed last month to receive formal notification of further industrial action (which is now underway) and as a result made a formal request to Unite to enter into a process of arbitration, where an independent third party arbitrator makes a decision which is binding on both parties and, as a result, one way or another brings the dispute to an end.
The Trust truly believes this is the best way forward as it would give everyone confidence that there will be a definite outcome to this dispute. There is clearly a difference of opinion as to what people are legally entitled to and I would be comfortable for this to be heard and decided by someone independent if it means it can be resolved, for everyone involved.
In response to this request, Unite has stated that it will not participate in Binding Arbitration.
I know from feedback there are colleagues affected by this dispute who agree binding arbitration is the best way forward and so the Trust has now formally asked for those affected to tell us their views and we’ll share the results with Unite.
I really hope that it will lead to their agreement to enter into this process and we can start to move forward again.