Demoralised, undervalued and dispensable. Just some words used by protesters outside Belfast City Hospital yesterday over plans by Belfast Health Trust to slash jobs and downgrade their positions.
For some the proposals, which affect 484 full-time medical secretaries within the trust, are an insult to the years of dedication they have given to the NHS.
This group of mainly women work closely with consultants, performing not only administrative duties but providing a small aspect of patient care. They are the link between patient and doctor.
For years they fought for better pay and finally received parity through the NHS Agenda for Change payscale.
Now that parity is threatened.
According to union NIPSA, around 50 jobs will be lost and 120 downgraded from Band Four to either a Band Three or Band Two as a result of a review by the trust.
Currently, the annual salary for a Band Four medical secretary is between £18,152-£21,798, Band Three £15,610-£18,577 and Band Two £13,653-£16,753.
The trust denies it is planning compulsory redundancies. But it is offering voluntary severance.
It also said it was “not downgrading” positions.
The document which was sent
to the unions, the trust said, proposed what it felt were “the appropriate skills needed to do” the job.
But the union claims this means employees will have to reapply for jobs and, based on their performance, be awarded a payscale.
Carmel, a medical secretary for 30 years, is horrified by the plans.
She said: “They told us it will be based solely on the interview, that everyone’s slate will be wiped clean. But that means your experience will not be counted. What about those who have not been in an interview scenario for years? If you don’t fit the criteria then you might not get your job. I like my job.”
Another employee of six years, Anne, said she felt “demoralised”.
“I feel like we are not valued. They are expecting us to do the same job for lower pay. At the moment there is one secretary for two consultants. We work closely with them. We know their patients and they know us. What’ll happen to patient care if there are less of us? It’s demoralising.”
Another woman, lab secretary Lorraine, was worried too.
The trust has so far only released plans for medical secretaries, but a spokeswoman said some lab secretaries could be affected, but could not be specific. Lorraine said: “They have said the review affects medical secretaries but what about lab secretaries? It is very distressing.
“Two years ago we received the same pay as those in England thanks to Agenda for Change. But now they want us to take a pay drop of a few thousand pounds. It’s a lot of money for someone like myself who is a single mum.”