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GHA ‘abusing insecure employment’, Unite says

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Unite the Union has accused the GHA of abusing insecure employment, after GHA Midwives took industrial action over the decision not to renews gynaecologists’ contracts.

Earlier this week GHA Midwives worked in out of uniform in protest at the GHA’s decision not to renew three gynaecologists’ contracts. In explaining that decision, the GHA cited clinical concerns.

But Unite rejected this and said it was no coincidence that the three gynaecologists are all approaching four years’ service with the GHA, at which point they would be able to seek a declaration of permanency of employment under the fixed-term worker regulations.

“The after the event declarations of clinical concerns are simply a smokescreen to justify this abuse of insecure employment,” the union said.

Sam Hennessy Regional Officer for Unite the Union questioned the GHA’s decision that “if such clinical concerns were apparent why did the employer not investigate these?”

“Why were formal performance procedures not instigated as per the General Orders?” Mr Hennessy said.

“And why would staff consider taking action in defence of their colleagues if they had clinical concerns with their practice? This shows the employer to be completely out of touch with the clinical day to day reality of a stable, hardworking maternity team.”

Mr Hennessy added that the union doubted these clinical issues existed, and if they did, then this should have been raised with the individuals concerned.

“It would therefore appear that the GHA are admitting to a failure of their own, that is to not positively address clinical or performance concerns when the employer became aware of these,” he said.

“If these performance or clinical issues are genuine, then these need to be discussed professionally with the individuals involved and the contracts extended to enable the opportunity to improve.”

“Not only does the GHA’s approach breach the General Orders, it also breaches the collective agreement between Unite and GoG as to the management of fixed term contracts in the public sector.”

Mr Hennessy said this decision will leave the GHA only having locum cover, creating a risk to the service by breaking the continuity of care that these professionals have provided.

“At no point has the Ministry of Health or the GHA given the guarantee to Unite that locums will only be for short term cover, despite the aforementioned collective agreement dictating that permanent positions should not be covered long-term with temporary labour,” he said.

“Therefore, the service will regress as to how it was in the past with locum appointment after locum appointment. The community deserves better than this.”

“The Ministry of Health continues to politically interfere in what should be decisions led by clinicians not politicians.”

“This approach is in complete contrast to the contents of reforms proposed earlier this week in giving greater autonomy to the GHA.”

“Unite will continue to support our members in dispute in maternity and will not allow inaccurate comments and breaches by the employer to go unchallenged against frontline health workers.”

A petition was launched online on change.org this week, and so far has amassed over 1,200 signatures.

The petition calls on the GHA to extend the consultants’ contracts at least so they can train up permanent replacements.

GSD CONCERNS

The GSD has also called on the Government confirm that this vital service will not be impacted or in any way impaired by this decision.

The party also asked to confirm what measures are in place to ensure that the service is provided to all those who require access to gynaecology services.

“In the summer I raised the serious issue of the lack of nurse practitioner resources at the GHA for the provision of routine cervical cancer screening and now we are seeing an even more serious issue arising in relation to gynaecology services,” Shadow Minister for Health Elliott Phillips said.

“The GHA is a ticking time bomb with threatened industrial action now being thrown into the mix. The Government needs to urgently restore calm and instil public confidence in the service which has been damaged by years of Government mismanagement. We call on the Government to make an urgent and immediate statement.”

Local charity BabySTEPPs have also said they are extremely concerned over the decision not to renew three consultant gynaecologists’ contracts.

The charity questioned the significant disruptions to obstetric and gynaecology services that will arise from the non-renewal of contracts for three-quarters of the obstetrics and gynaecology team, as well as from any resultant industrial action.

BabySTEPPs called on the GHA and Ministry of Health to take immediate steps to reassure the public that patient safety is being kept paramount.

The charity asked the GHA to thoroughly and transparently address any allegations made against the consultant gynaecologists with the General Medical Council, to ensure that the public can maintain trust in this service.

Also, the charity said if the allegations are unsubstantiated, it called on the GHA to reinstate the relevant consultants until a more thought-out department development plan can be negotiated.

BabySTEPPs also asked that any plans the GHA implements are made clear and ensure that the delivery of clinical services is not adversely affected at any point.

“Furthermore, the apparent lack of consultation with the maternity team is a significant concern given the very close working that these fields require,” BabySTEPPs said.

“We urge the Ministry of Health to heed the concerns expressed by the midwives with regard to the direct impact that a sudden overhaul of almost the entire Consultant team will inevitably have on delivery of care to expectant parents as well as patients requiring specialist gynaecology input. This major disruption to the gynaecology team can only be justified if the allegations, once properly investigated are upheld and serious enough to warrant the dismissal of these Consultants.”

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