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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 17:31 GMT
Nurses threaten industrial action
John Radcliffe Hospital
John Radcliffe Hospital "is over-crowded"
Nurses at a leading hospital are threatening industrial action over fears that the ever-growing pressure on the NHS is compromising patient safety.

Staff at the Accident and Emergency department of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford believe that overcrowding is putting patients at risk.

They have asked the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to allow a ballot on proposed industrial action.

RCN regional officer Patricia Marquis said: "For several years, conditions have become more and more difficult.

The nurses cannot give patients the best care

Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing
"There have been increasing numbers of patients and, partly because of the nurse shortages, fewer beds.

"Patients become backed up in A&E and it is very, very common to see every corridor full of people waiting on trolleys - the department is often full to overflowing."

She added: "It means the nurses cannot give patients the best care, or even privacy and dignity, and safety is being compromised."

Ms Marquis said the nurses made a formal complaint last year to the trust management and a panel upheld their complaints.

But an action plan to address concerns has not been fully implemented and problems have continued.

She said: "The nurses are at the end of their tether and now feel this ballot is their only course."

Ballot approval

An RCN sub-committee on Wednesday agreed to recommend that the full 26-strong college council should authorise a ballot of around 70 RCN members working in the A&E department.

The council has to meet within the next 10 days to consider the application, but it is expected to endorse the sub-committee's recommendation.

A rule introduced by the RCN in 1995 allows its nurses to take limited industrial action.

But it states "members shall not act in any way which is detrimental to the well being or interests of their patients or clients".

Since then, the council has voted in favour of authorising a ballot just three times.

But in all three cases, agreements have been thrashed out with management before a ballot took place.

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "The sheer exasperation of staff and nurses is entirely understandable.

"Their patience has been sorely tested by Tony Blair's Government which continually imposes new demands with ever more targets and paperwork, resulting in little time for patient care."

Industrial action could include working to rule, a ban on overtime or refusing to treat patients in places nurses consider unsuitable.

The John Radcliffe serves more than 600,000 of people in and around Oxford.

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