General Secretary

December 2015 | 12.12.2015

Ashworth Strike Action

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STEVE GILLAN SAYS THAT TAKING STRIKE ACTION IS ALWAYS A LAST RESORT FOR ANY TRADE UNION AND IT MUST BE TOTALLY JUSTIFIED.


The strike action taken by POA members at Mersey Care Trust on 13th November 2015 was fully justified in my view. Nurses Peter Hilton and Kevin Gregson were dismissed by Mersey Care Trust following the restraint of a violent patient. The facts of this case are a reminder that there must be a duty of care to staff and that investigations must be fair and reasonable.

Having read all the documentation and viewed the CCTV, it appears to me that instead of carrying out an investigation into the facts of the case, the investigation actually focused on establishing guilt. That is not what the role of investigators is about and I hope there was no interference in the case to get a result that other managers wanted, as I have since received communications suggesting that there is a cover up from someone claiming to be a concerned manager at Ashworth.

If there was a hidden agenda as suggested in this particular case, I believe an independent review would establish that very quickly and Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson would be reinstated immediately. An independent review is needed into this case because in my view, there has been a miscarriage of justice and experienced nurses with an unblemished record have been dismissed from the job that they took great pride in doing, keeping the general public safe from some of the most damaged and dangerous individuals in the system.

Bullying

Both sacked members and other members have told me that the real reason they were dismissed was not due to this incident, but because they both challenged a culture of bullying from other managers and this was a way of silencing those challenges. If that is the case then quite frankly, that needs to be exposed and dealt with immediately.

I know from communications that senior managers referred to this patient as a “vulnerable adult”, and I understand why they may say that but let me be clear, the only vulnerable individuals on that day were the nurses who were being assaulted by a violent individual who had a history of attacking staff, not just in the secure hospital environment but indeed in the prison system as well.

This was an individual who was sentenced by the courts for a horrendous offence against a member of the public and who received a substantial prison sentence as a result.

Most POA members accept that patients and prisoners should be treated with dignity and professionalism whilst in our care and I believe on the whole, that is exactly what happens in the day-to-day running of those in the secure settings at Ashworth (and indeed elsewhere). The facts of this case are that Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson, along with the other staff on duty at the incident, behaved professionally under extreme provocation.

The assault

The patient had head-butted a member of staff triggering an alarm response. Staff had been assaulted and the patient was spitting at staff. The patient spat in the face of Mr Hilton who picked up the patients slipper and placed it over the patient’s mouth (but not restricting his airways) using it as a barrier to stop further spitting until the patient was restrained using approved techniques. Having viewed the CCTV, at no stage was the patient in any danger, the slipper was used for approximately 15 seconds. The patient during the whole event was struggling and being violent.

After the incident, the patient was charged by the police on three counts of assault against staff. One on the head-butting incident and two on Mr Hilton for spitting in his face and causing damage to his knee. He was convicted in magistrates’ court on all assaults. He had to pay Mr Hilton £250 compensation. The patient made a counter complaint to the police against the staff and the police took no further action. The reason that the police took no further action was a sensible one because there was indeed no further action justified to take. The patient then made a complaint to Mersey Care Trust and straight away Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson were suspended, which ultimately then went to a hearing and they were dismissed and lost their appeals. The POA are defending both at employment tribunals in the New Year but we recognise employment tribunals are not a re-investigation or indeed a re-hearing.

Interference backfired

Rightfully the Ashworth branch was outraged and a branch meeting determined that members wanted to be balloted on taking action. That ballot came back positive but was subject to challenge by the HR Director of Workforce. Although the Director stated that they were not looking at a legal challenge to stop the action in a democratic ballot under trade union legislation, the Union took the decision to re-ballot the membership. During the second ballot the Chief Executive of Mersey Care Trust put out propaganda about the case which just simply wasn’t factual or indeed accurate and claimed they were not interfering in the ballot process.

The question I suppose needs to be asked is why wait to put something out during the second ballot? In many respects the interference backfired as it produced a bigger turnout in the ballot than the first ballot.

Commitment and dedication to injustice

The ballot was done absolutely correctly yet this time, NHS lawyers with I assume the instruction of the HR Director and Chief Executive attempted to threaten us with an application to the High Court on the flimsiest of evidence. ‘Clutching at straws’ springs to mind. The fact was I was offering meetings to avert strike action but they wouldn’t meet me until the day before our action − even although we gave them two week’s notice of intent instead of the one week’s notice as required by law − and then they refused to discuss the real issue, yet at the same time a spokesperson for Mersey Care Trust stated something completely different in the media to suggest that they would involve themselves in discussions to attempt to avert strike action.

The POA was confident that it had done everything required by law in the ballot. That must have been the case because the NHS lawyers didn’t make an application in the end to the High Court and the strike went ahead. Instead of threatening the Union with legal action, perhaps their energies would have been better spent in dialogue with me in an attempt to avert the strike but sadly they had no commitment to doing so.

On the day of the strike I only intended to stay for a short while but the commitment and the dedication to this injustice and the solidarity that co-workers demonstrated to each other made me stay on the picket line with them all day. The weather was horrific but I stood proudly watching fellow members brave the elements in support of the sacked Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson.

I watched and listened to the humour, friendliness and the camaraderie and realised that this was a terrific bunch of people standing up to injustices. Standing in the freezing cold, driving rain and gale force winds not taking a backward step. I am proud of each and every member that took action on 13th November 2015. Each person that I spoke to thanked me for standing with them but really and truly, the thanks shouldn’t go to me, rather it should go to each and every member standing up for what is right, and through these pages of Gatelodge I say: “Thank you all very much for the solidarity that you all showed in this difficult dispute.”

Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson have been treated unjustly

Management can put all the spin out that they wish and I noted some of the correspondence they put out after that 24-hour strike. No matter what they state, our strike was successful and the issue is now out in the public domain and the issue is not going to go away until the ‘Culture of Fear’ is driven out of Mersey Care Trust. Speaking to many members it surprised me that the same names were cropping up all the time and that many members told me bullying from certain managers was rife. Rather than hide behind legal applications and being in denial about this particular case I urge senior managers to have the professionalism to agree that this case should have independent scrutiny outside of the Trust to look at not just the CCTV footage but all the paperwork. If they are confident that everything was justified in this case then they have nothing to fear from Control and Restraints experts from the police, prison service and other trusts within the NHS to take a fresh look. That is how confident I am that with independent scrutiny outside of Mersey Care Trust then this issue will be resolved in the conclusion that Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson have been treated unjustly. The POA will continue to campaign for an independent review and if this means taking more action to highlight this injustice then that is exactly what we will do.
 

Steve Gillan
POA General Secretary