St George’s Hospital could face a staffing crisis if 400 nurses and healthcare workers agree to take industrial action for the first time in 23 years.

Nurses and technical staff are angry at a decision by bosses to press ahead with major changes to the rotas, duties and pay of 400 theatre nurses and practitioners.

Unison members at the Tooting hospital have started balloting in an “indicative” ballot that could, if agreed, lead to official industrial action.

The union claims the changes would see staff suffer pay cuts, day staff forced to work night duty and some of those with childcare commitments forced to quit theatres.

Unison regional officer, Michael Walker, said: “It would seem that the Government and some managers have totally lost all understanding of compassion and fairness in the way they treat dedicated nurses in their quest to implement Government cuts to the NHS.”

Branch secretary Geoff Thorne said industrial action looked “inevitable”, while Unison nursing convener, Jane Pilgrim, added: “Management at St George’s have left nursing and professional staff in a very invidious position where they either allow management to significantly cut the pay and conditions or they are reluctantly take some form of industrial action.”

But a spokesman for St George’s Healthcare said the changes would “help the trust to meet a growing demand for surgery and offer patients operations during evenings and on weekends”.

He said changes to the shift system were first raised in a 2007 consultation and staff employed or promoted since August 2008 are already employed under the new system.

He added: “Payment arrangements for additional hours are being changed so, as part of the negotiations, an enhanced bank rate has been agreed for theatre staff.

“Where possible, the trust has sought to either accommodate or offer a compromise to individuals with child care or other commitments.

“So far, nearly one hundred meetings have taken place with individual staff who have asked that their personal circumstances be considered.

“We will continue to meet with staff and their representatives over the coming months as the changes are implemented, and have agreed with Unison a process for reviewing rota arrangements as they are implemented so that, as far as possible, we can accommodate requests for staff to work flexibly.”

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