The situation has become so dangerous that security officers at the Royal can no longer stand by silently while the safety of staff, patients and security is held together more by luck than design. The security department has seen staffing levels halved to a total of 43 officers to cover three shifts; seven days a week. Shifts are divided into two officers to monitor over 230 cameras and 30 monitors in a control room; two officers to a security vehicle and two officers on foot. It is not surprising that anger amongst security officers is at boiling point. They are expected to cover an 83 acre site with only six officers on duty on any shift! One officer has explained “depending on the time of day staffing can be reduced down to two officers to cover all areas of the Royal”. Another officer has said “if I was a parent with a child in the children’s hospital, I wouldn’t leave my child because if something terrible happened, like somebody came into the hospital and lifted a child, we would be hard pressed to mount any kind of response”.
Trust management liable for lack of security cover
Responsibility for this situation lays firmly on the shoulders of senior management of the security department and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) Executive who have intentionally run down this vital service to cut costs. This has resulted in large areas of the Royal site left unprotected where vulnerable patients and isolated staff are left at risk.
To the credit of the officers involved, they have strived to defend this service against cuts for well over 6 years. Security officers continually reported their concerns about the loss of officers on the ground who were not being replaced, because it was affecting their ability to attend to incidents. They reported to management they had seen a dramatic rise in assaults and thefts on staff and patients as officers could not get to the scene on time. They also reported, where incidents were severe enough, the lack of officers meant they were not just limited in their ability to resolve such situations but could possibly exacerbate a violent confrontation. When these issues were raised with senior management, they point blankly refused to take up the concerns of the security officers. At one point, management proposed rather than increasing staffing levels that two bicycles would be provided so the officers could attend incidents quicker!
This refusal of senior management to genuinely deal with staff shortages left security officers with no choice but take out a grievance through their respective trade unions (Unite, Unison and NIPSA) to deal with staffing levels, training and appropriate equipment required for the job. Security officers have stated their grievance had been taken so they can “deliver the best service they are being paid for without cuts and job losses”. One security officer makes the point when he said, “all we wanted was to build a model security department for the protection of all the staff, patients and visitors of the Royal, but when you have been raising complaints from February 2003 that officers didn’t even have the basic kit for the job like boots, jackets and shirts, what else could we do?” Decisions around the specialised role of security in the hospital setting have been taken over by management groups, sub-groups and committees that have no security experience, back-ground or training, but are using security to pursue their own departmental agenda. Officers rightly state that decisions around security within the Royal site should remain firmly within the remit of security officers on the ground as they are best placed to make the correct specific strategic decisions for the needs of the service.
On the grounds of the grievance, senior management of the Trust have accepted that security officers have genuine complaints about staffing levels and the increased security risks to staff, patients and officers, training needs and equipment. In 2007, a process of talks facilitated between union officials and senior management aimed at solving the crisis in security provision at the Royal was established. Senior management gave a commitment to fill vacancies and resolve issues over obtaining accreditation for training received, which would assist the security officers in getting the appropriate up-grade from pay band 2 to 3 under Agenda for Change. Security officers accepted these proposals in good faith and withdrew their grievance. However, Trust management have reneged on this commitment and have refused to take any steps to improve security or deal with security workers entitlement to an upgrade in pay. This has resulted in 3 years of increased cuts in the service. Increasing responsibilities on security officers has led to a service that is paralysed to the point that the safety of staff, patients and visitors cannot be guaranteed. Officers state that management believe they can cut the security department even further with rumours of reducing staffing levels to four officers per shift!
Campaign launched for security of patients, staff and visitors
Security workers at the RVH have now launched a determined campaign to force the Belfast Health Trust to fill vacancies in security at the Royal site, grant accreditation for training received, upgrade security officers pay to Band 3 and provide proper security uniform and equipment. A committee has been elected to run this campaign, representing all security officers at the Royal, which is appealing for the support of all workers, hospital staff, patients and the general public. A grievance is currently being pursued, but it is recognised that industrial action may be needed in order to fight the cuts to security.
It is essential all workers in health support the security workers in the Royal to fight against the cuts in their service. All cuts must be opposed. Workers need to stand together in opposition to the cuts.
Please show your support for the RVH Security Officers
Send an e-mail of protest addressed to BHSCT Chief Executive Colm Donaghy to: email@example.com
Please send messages of support to Tony O’Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org