The borough’s bitter NHS row has deepened further after a hospital boss banned trade union officials from a dispute over comments made during a meeting walk-out.
Unite regional officer Keith Hutson and the union’s fellow representative Debbie Brannan are no longer welcome on Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust sites and are excluded from discussions about controversial subsidiary firm WWL Solutions.
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WWL chief executive Andrew Foster took the drastic step after Mr Hutson told the board on his way out of the meeting where WWL Solutions was approved that the hospital would have “no water, no power and no heat”.
Mr Hutson says he was referring to the future as many Unite members, who include plumbers and electricians, will refuse to sign up to work for the wholly-owned company.
However, Mr Foster and the WWL board have interpreted his words as a direct threat that Unite members would interfere with the hospital’s essential infrastructure between the end of the meeting and the beginning of strike action the following morning.
Wars of words have been exchanged between medical bosses and unions throughout the dispute and in the wake of the banning both sides have once again reached for strong rhetoric.
Mr Foster said Mr Hutson’s actions were “wholly unacceptable” and amounted to a direct threat to harm patients at Wigan Infirmary.
The union official, meanwhile, said Mr Foster’s actions were “childish” and unhelpful.
Mr Foster said: “We were very disappointed by the comments made in the board of directors’ meeting when Keith Hutson, the representative from Unite, made a comment to say that ‘by the following morning, the Trust would have no water, no power and no heat.’
“This would obviously be a detriment to patient safety and has been taken seriously by the Trust.
“This is wholly unacceptable and contrary to legal requirements incumbent on the union to protect life and limb.
“On the basis of this direct threat to patient care and services, and the inflammatory and highly inappropriate language that Keith Hutson used during the board meeting, there has been a complete breakdown of trust and confidence in him and Debbie Brannan, the other Unite representative who was also in attendance.
“The lack of action by Debbie Brannan, to either challenge his behaviour or the threat made, also seriously brings into question the trust and confidence we have in her.
“This behaviour and threat has resulted in the Trust excluding them both from participating in the dispute and ongoing discussions between Unite and the Trust and an exclusion of their presence on any Trust sites.
“The Trust has asked Unite to provide an alternative official but as yet not received a response to this request.”
Mr Hutson has responded in equally forthright fashion.
He said: “When the decision was given at the board meeting I pointed out to Andrew Foster that WWL Solutions could mean they end up with no power, water or heat.
“My members have said they won’t work for WWL Solutions. This has all been put in correspondence to the Trust.
“Our members want to work in the NHS and that could lead to circumstances where people won’t transfer over.
“If that happens they don’t have a workforce and you can’t just pull heating engineers and electricians out of a hat, especially ones who understand the sort of boiler systems you find in hospitals.
“Unite would never put life and limb at risk. I haven’t made any threats.
“Unite’s position is that I am the officer dealing with WWL. It’s not up to Andrew Foster to dictate to Unite who does and doesn’t conduct negotiations on behalf of an independent trade union.
“How he thinks he is going to solve this by banning Unite officers from the premises I don’t know.
“I think he is behaving very childishly. He can’t get his own way so he is stamping his feet.”