The leader of Wigan Council has made an impassioned plea for an end to the bitter industrial dispute over moving staff into a subsidiary company.
Coun David Molyneux said the row between hospital bosses at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust and unions over the creation of WWL Solutions needs resolving.
Related: Five-day strike planned in NHS dispute
Coun Molyneux said he was appealing on behalf of “the people of the borough” for both sides to get around the table and find a resolution.
However, he also suggested it was the borough’s NHS chiefs who should make the first move.
Ancillary staff at the borough’s hospitals are preparing for a five-day walk-out starting next week if WWL Solutions gets the go-ahead from the Trust board at a meeting on June 27.
They have already taken part in two 48-hour strikes and have the full backing of the borough’s MPs, leading councillors in the cabinet and national Labour Party figures including leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn.
Coun Molyneux said: “I’m making a plea on behalf of the residents of the borough that this issue between the hospital and the unions is resolved.
“I fully understand the position of the unions and the employees. This is something very close to people’s hearts and a very emotive subject, not just for staff but the entire population of the borough.
“The unions and WWL both now need to get around the table to try and look at some resolution on this.
“The ball is firmly in the Trust’s court, they need to say to the unions that they will sit down and do something about this. There is a large gap between the two sides and WWL needs to take the lead.
“I need to make sure the service being provided is right for the people of this borough.
“The staff have done a fantastic job in how they have responded to the strikes up to now and I applaud those who stand up to defend the NHS but maintaining services in the face of on-going strikes cannot go on indefinitely.
“I am sure the people on strike don’t want to be on strike. They want to deliver a service for people at the infirmary and WWL’s other sites.
“So on behalf of the people of the borough and the council I am making a plea to end this dispute and make sure that as we celebrate the NHS’s 70th anniversary our hospital continues to deliver the services that people expect and deserve.
“This will only be resolved in discussions at the table between the Trust board and the unions. Making statements about what you want to do without talking to the people you need to talk to is never going to resolve this.”
Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said the union was always available for talks but said the main player with most power to end the dispute was the Trust.
Mr Hutson also said WWL had made no approach to Unite over negotiations, although the Trust denied this was the case.
Hospital bosses also expressed hope a resolution can be found.
A WWL spokesman said: “We welcome Coun Molyneux’s suggestion that both sides should meet again to try to resolve the dispute and we have always been open to talking.
“Back in April, we took a decision to pause the decision about WWL Solutions, specifically to give time for alternatives to be put forwards.
“Unison have put forward a proposal which will be one of the options that will go to next week’s Trust Board which is expected to make a final decision.
“We also invited ACAS in to see whether they could help facilitate a solution. We continue to remain open to suggestions and have offered to meet Unison and Unite again.”
Unison, meanwhile, was critical of the Trust’s approach to the issue to date.
Lizanne Devonport, North West regional organiser, said: “NHS staff care deeply about the patients they serve and only take strike action as a last resort. But so far, the Trust has been dismissive of staff concerns and has closed down dialogue that could bring a resolution to the dispute.
“The Trust needs to come back to the table to agree a way forward. They should provide the information we have requested about the business plan for WWL Solutions, the alternatives to outsourcing and the Trust’s financial position.
“The Trust must surely be aware now that staff are vehemently opposed to being outsourced to a private company. For the sake of patients, staff and the reputation of the Trust, they need to change course to avert the real prospect of sustained industrial action.”