The Belfast Health Trust has announced they want to sack 50 medical secretaries – more than 10% in Belfast. In an effort to cut wages, they also announced plans to downgrade 120 medical secretaries from Band Four to either Band Three or Brand Two. One medical secretary working within a cancer centre summed up the impact these cuts will have “We are responsible for making sure all results from scans, biopsies etc are in the patient notes for the doctor to have to hand. As a secretary to 2 consultants I also deal with phone calls from patients, patient relatives, GPs and other hospitals. We are constantly under pressure. I very rarely take tea breaks and most days I work through my lunch to try and keep on top of my workload. Our department is already currently understaffed which means that when we take leave our work is not covered. It is not unknown for secretaries to work late into the evening (unpaid) in an effort to ensure typing is kept up to date. There is one word to describe my job- stressful!”
These proposals have been met with anger by medical secretaries, who fought a battle over years to achieve parity of pay with colleagues in England. Large protests have taken place outside the Royal, City, Mater and Ulster Hospitals and also outside the meeting of the Trust at Knockbracken. Members of NIPSA have also taken part in a consultative ballot, which resulted in the overwhelming majority of NIPSA members supporting strike action to stop the cuts. As a result, the Trust has been forced to concede that no existing medical secretaries on Band Four will downgraded. An agreement between the unions representing medical secretaries (NIPSA, Unison and Unite) and the Trust has been signed which also states that there are no proposals for compulsory redundancies. However, the threat to cut 50 posts via voluntary redundancies has not been removed. Neither has the Trust agreed that all new medical secretary positions will be on the same wages and conditions as existing medical secretaries. It is clear that the Trust is still determined to carry out the cuts as instructed by the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey. All the unions representing medical secretaries must co-ordinate united action of all medical secretaries in the Belfast Trust to stop plans to cut jobs and pay. Unless the Trust commits to protecting current posts and pay of incoming medical secretaries, ballots for action should be initiated in NIPSA, Unison and Unite.