Thousands of strike day operations postponed

THOUSANDS of hospital operations and appointments have been cancelled next week as the public-sector strike gets ready to bring Scotland to a standstill over pension reforms.

Nurses and other key NHS staff are among 300,000 Scottish public- sector workers due to walk out next Wednesday as part of a UK-wide day of action, with two million workers expected to stay away.

Elective surgery for procedures such as hip and knee transplants, cataract removals and hysterectomies have been widely postponed, causing further delays to treatment. Thousands more will see their outpatient appointments rescheduled as most hospitals switch to a “Sunday service”.

Emergency services will be working and urgent operations will go ahead, with unions and health boards negotiating to ensure the staff numbers necessary to provide a basic level of care. Staff will be pooled from surgeons, doctors and consultants who are members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which has not yet balloted its members on action.

It comes as millions of families face childcare problems as teachers take industrial action over pensions on November 30.

Most schools will shut after all the country’s major teaching unions agreed to take part in a one-day strike. Every school in Glasgow, will close, affecting 78,000 children.

Norman Provan, associate director of RCN Scotland, said: “No nurse would ever take a decision on industrial action lightly and it is a fundamental principle of the RCN that members will not act in any way which is detrimental to the well-being or interests of their patients.

“However, our members are so angry about the Government’s proposed changes to the NHS pension scheme that, should trade union and Government talks fail by the end of the year, we will ballot.

“In the meantime, the RCN is supporting the day of action on November 30. Although health boards have made arrangements to ensure services continue in a limited way on that day, there may be some instances where members are concerned about the level of care they are providing. In these circumstances, they should speak immediately to their line manager or RCN representative.”

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said 1000 day surgery cases had been “regrettably” postponed, with some 300 operations going unscheduled in NHS Lothian. In NHS Lanarkshire, around 1000 outpatient appointments have been axed though the impact of the strike on day surgery has not been finalised.

Day surgery will be postponed completely in NHS Highland, with around 500 outpatient appointments and 50 minor operations postponed in the Forth Valley.

In Ayrshire and Arran, 194 elective operations have been cancelled and rescheduled.

Dave Watson, Scottish organiser of Unison, said: “Essentially, there

will be emergency cover in the health service next Wednesday but it will be more like a public holiday. We want to ensure life-and-limb cover but most routine surgery and appointments have already been cancelled.”

Courts, libraries, museums and social care are expected to be widely disrupted. The Driving Standards Agency’s driving tests are likely to face disruption, but learner drivers taking tests have been advised to turn up.

Mr Watson said: “There has never been a dispute on this scale, ever. People talk about the General Strike of 1926, but the number of industries it affected were limited.

“If you think about public life in Scotland today, virtually every aspect of that will be impacted in a very big way.”

The First Division Association (FDA), which represents senior civil servants, said some 400 members of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are due to walk out, the majority being staff of legal grade.

Its Scottish secretary, Jim Caldwell, said courts could be shut down or seriously disrupted due to the combined effect of the walkout by prosecutors and Scottish Court Service staff, including macers, clerks and receptionists who are members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union.

Mr Caldwell said: “I would think that most courts in Scotland will be disrupted, if not totally closed.”

Fourteen unions are taking part in the strike, with most balloting on the basis that further action will follow if no resolution is found with the Government.

The mass action has been triggered by UK Government proposals to bring the public sector retirement age in line with the new state pension age of 66, rather than the current 60, by 2020.

The proposals include an increase in employee contributions of 3%, with unrest compounded by the public sector pay freeze and plans to link pension pot payments to a lower rate of inflation.