Health bosses at a debt ridden NHS trust in Manchester are set to waste thousands of pounds a day – and disrupt the lives of vulnerable mental health patients – in an effort to break a strike in defence of trade union activist Karen Reissmann.
This week’s industrial action at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care trust follows a massive 87 percent vote for strikes.
The vote came after the trust suspended Karen, a psychiatric nurse and chair of her local Unison union branch, claiming it no longer had confidence in her as an employee.
Karen has led successful strikes against cuts to services at the trust in recent months and spoken out against transfering services provided by the trust to the voluntary and private sectors.
Now the trust’s senior managers are demanding that all in-patient staff are “exempted” from the strike. They are refusing to use managers to cover any roles affected by the action.
Instead of negotiating with the union over emergency cover, the trust is temporarily transferring three psychiatric wards from the north Manchester hospital to private hospitals in Manchester, Bury and Darlington.
The move will affect over 60 patients and the cost per bed is estimated to be several hundred pounds per day.
It will also mean that patients who have been sectioned – and are required by law to be accommodated in a mental health unit – will have to be re-sectioned for their move to Bury.
They will then have to be sectioned again for their return to North Manchester – causing hours of paperwork and an enormous waste of resources.
There was a further setback for trust managers this week as a small group of ward-based staff – who were not members of Unison and thus expected to work normally during the dispute – instead decided to join the union and take part in the action.
Staff at the trust say that there is an atmosphere of chaos among management. Bosses are regularly called into crisis meetings, sometimes more than once a day.
The trust’s chief executive Sheila Foley is said to be rushing back from her holiday home in Bahrain this week in order to oversee the situation.
In addition to the strong mood for action inside the trust, support for Karen is also pouring in from the outside.
“We are being inundated with messages of support, donations and pledges to attend our demonstration in Manchester on Sunday 9 September,” Karen told Socialist Worker.
“The Fujitsu branch of the Unite union decided to donate £2,000 to our fund, and collected a further £250 from its members. We also received support from the president of the National Union of Students, who offered the support of her union.
“This week I spent a morning on the phone to Unison branches in the north west and raised almost £3,000 in donations. Local health branches are particularly keen to come and support us too.
“In the last week Unison branches in Preston, Aintree hospitals, East Lancashire, Blackburn hospitals and North Staffs hospitals have all pledged their support.
“The protest is going to be particularly important to those members of our branch who this week are going to be taking action for the first time. They need to feel like they are part of a wider movement.”
What is at stake in this strike is the right to speak out against cuts and privatisation in the NHS, and for union representatives to have the freedom to do their job properly.
It is vital that trade unionists from across Britain continue to get behind this campaign.
What you can do to help Karen
- Demonstrate in support of Karen Reissmann on Sunday 9 September. Assemble at 1pm in the Peace Gardens, Princess Street, Manchester.
- You can download the union branch’s petition to reinstate Karen from the campaign website » www.reinstate-karen.org or » supportkarenreissmann.googlepages.com
- Send donations and messages of support to the Manchester community and mental health Unison branch at 70 Manchester Road, Manchester M21 9UN. You can also email messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org