BREAKTHROUGH IN STRIKE: TRUST BOSS RETURNS FROM DUBAI AND AGREES PEACE TALKS

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STRIKING nurses won a huge victory today when they forced Trust boss Sheila Foley to agree to peace talks.

They confronted Mrs Foley as she returned to work from a weeks holiday in Dubai and demanded that she begin immediate talks to settle the strike in support of Karen Reissmann.

And within minutes, Mrs Foley who looked “tanned but strained” according to the Manchester Evening News, emerged from Trust HQ in Manchester to agree to a meeting.

Nurse union reps then submitted a demand that Karen should be immediately reinstated pending her appeal aginst her sacking. In return, the nurses would call off their two-week old stoppage and return to work.

The Trust spent most of the day considering the peace offer from the nurses, but had still not responded by 4 pm or 5.15pm or 9.15pm

The breakthrough came shortly after 7 am this morning when nurses gathered on the picket line to greet Mrs Foley as she arrived back at her desk.

She was handed a letter demanding immediate negotiations – and then re-emerged from the Trust building to agree to meet representatives at 9 am.

After that 30-minute meeting, Karen said:”We are delighted that Mrs Foley has met UNISON reps to discuss how to end this strike as soon as possible.

“It is the first time the Trust have been willing to talk and we are very relieved that we have now been able to get round the table to try to sort out this dispute.

“None of us want to be on strike – we would much rather be back caring for our patients. We hope the Trust will now respond positively and constructively to our proposals.” 

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CHILLY RECEPTION FOR SUN-KISSED SHEILA

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GLOBE-TROTTING chief executive Sheila Foley faces a chilly reception tomorrow when she returns to work from sun-kissed Dubai.

Striking nurses in Manchester are demanding that the the first thing Mrs Foley does (after she has touched up her tan, of course) is call an emergency meeting to settle the dispute.

Mrs Foley flew to Dubai to house hunt on the day that 150 mental health nurses began an indefinite strike in support of sacked colleague Karen Reissmann.

“This caused outrage from staff, patients and carers alike who were left feeling that she didn’t care about any potential impact on patients nor did she have any interest in trying to resolve the situation” said Caroline Bedale, UNISON Branch Secretary.

Karen said: “Sheila Foley must make ending this dispute her top priority. We want to discuss with her first thing tomorrow how she can resolve this damaging dispute.”

Strikers are to meet at 7 am on Tuesday 20th November outside the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust headquarters, Chorlton House, 70 Manchester road, M21 9UN.

If you would like to join the picket or would like more information, please contact Andy Gill, UNISON Regional Officer, TEL: 0161 211 1000, Karen Reissmann Branch Chair, 07972120451 or Caroline Bedale Branch Secretary 07931152001.

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, THE INDEPENDENT

TWO LETTERS HAVE BEEN PRINTED IN THE INDEPENDENT, FOLLOWING MARK STEEL’S RECENT COLUMN. YOU CAN READ THEM HERE, OR BELOW. 

Sacked nurse is one of the NHS’s finest

Sir: Thank you for Mark Steel’s excellent article about the sacking of Karen Reissmann (14 November).

It is time that this disgraceful affair was brought to the attention of the British people.

The “surreal charges” that Karen was found guilty of might almost be humorous if it wasn’t for the fact that a truly excellent nurse is now without a job.

The real reason for her dismissal was that she had the audacity to speak out about creeping privatisation and the decimation of community mental-health services.

I have worked with Karen for more than 25 years in this Trust and can vouch for the fact that you would not find a more caring, knowledgeable, professional and dedicated nurse anywhere in the NHS.

Karen should be receiving national recognition for her service to the NHS, not her P45.

Chris Peters

Manchester

Sir: While Mark Steel’s article concerning the dismissal of Karen Reissmann exposes most of the insanity (I use the word intentionally) of the way she has been treated it does miss another major point.

Karen received a letter informing her of her promotion. Later that day she was taken out of a meeting with a patient to be informed that she had been suspended for bringing the trust into disrepute.

The support for Karen is not confined to her own union or branch. It comes from her patients, service users, health-care professionals, and other trade unionists across the cities of Manchester and Salford.

I suspect that as the facts of this case become more widely known there will be only one viable charge of bringing the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust into disrepute, and that will be against the Trust and its director.

Pete Grubb

Public and Commercial Services Union, Oldham

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STRIKE RALLY DEMANDS PEACE TALKS WITH REGIONAL HEALTH CHIEFS

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A PACKED rally in support of sacked nurse Karen Reissmann has demanded peace talks with the Regional Health Authority to settle the strike.

The rally drew more than 300 supporters to the Mechanics Institute in Manchester including mental health nurses, service users, Trust staff and other trade unionists.

The rally was told that Trust bosses were “frozen in the headlights” by the publicity surrounding the sacking of Karen and had failed to make any attempt to settle the strike and reinstate her.

UNISON rep, Val Midson (pictured below with Karen) told the rally:” I am absolutely furious that Shelia Foley, who is being paid £135,000 a year as the Trust chief executive, had the nerve to fly off on holiday to Dubai just days after sacking Karen.

“We are now demanding that, while she is away on holiday, the Regional Health Authority immediately step in and start talking to us about ending this dispute. We have serious concerns about the level of care the Trust is now able to provide to our patients.

“But it is easy for them to resolve this dispute – they can reinstate Karen Reissman and let the rest of us get back to work looking after the patients.”

The rally, filmed by the BBC, was repeatedly interrupted by huge rounds of applause after patients, staff and trade unionists from outside the health service, pledged their support for the strike.

The rally was told that the Trust was renting 20 extra beds at a private hospital in Cheadle for the duration of the strike. But the extra beds would be axed when the strike ended – and NHS patients would return to the waiting list.

Karen told the rally: “The Trust have hired private investigators, a private PR firm and now private beds in this dispute. Those beds should be for our patients for the future, not just the next few weeks.

“We have 150 dedicated people out on strike who should be back in work providing care for people. But the chief executive has buggered off on holiday – so we now need to go over her head and say to the Regional Health Authority ‘we want this strike resolved'”.

Supporters were asked to contact local MP’s and councillors and help rally support for a major demonstration which will take place in Manchester on November 24th.

Karen Reissmann and Val Midson

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THE INDEPENDENT: You can’t go around telling people you’ve been sacked (or that you are innocent), by Mark Steel

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The Independent has today published a brilliant column by Mark Steel about Karen’s case. You can also read it in full below.

 

Until recently, no one seemed to have worked out how to apply budget cuts and privatisation to the field of care for the mentally ill. I’m sure think-tanks have come up with suggestions, such as sponsoring the voices in paranoid people’s heads. So patients could say “Now, instead of being warned that the man behind me is a secret agent trying to kill me, I’m told I can’t get quicker than a Kwik-Fit fitter. I’ve not got in nearly so many fights but I’ve spent my life’s savings on exhaust pipes.”

But then the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, in an effort to cut its budget by £5 million, began transferring patients to the voluntary sector, where staff were paid much less than by the Trust. So one nurse, Karen Reissman, who campaigned aganist this tactic, was suspended and then sacked, on a magnificent set of surreal charges. The first was that she was “interviewed for an article opposing the transfer of NHS care … affecting the reputation of the Trust.”

For example, she mentioned that because of cuts, there were 24 patients being kept in 20 beds. Presumably, what the staff are supposed to say if they’re asked why patients are complaining there’s two in a bed is “Oh don’t worry, that’s the schizophrenics for you.”

An elderly ward has been closed, and a thousand patients have had to change the nurse assigned to them, so obviously the person who affects the reputation of the Trust is the person who mentions this in an interview. It was the same in Abu Ghraib. Its bad reputation is all down to the disloyal types who grumbled they were coming out of there feeling a bit sore. Up until then it had four stars in the Michelin Guide.

The next reason for her sacking was that, having been suspended, “she told people she had been suspended”. No wonder they’ve got more mentally ill people than they can cope with if that’s considered sane.

How are you supposed to not tell people you’ve been suspended? What a wonderfully chaotic world if this rule applied everywhere, with no one allowed to tell anyone they’d been suspended or sacked. Charles Clarke and Blunkett would have to turn up every day at the Home Office, pretend to deport someone and come home again. Whenever England played football, every ex-manager back to Bobby Robson would have to jump along the touchline, swearing and pretending they were still running the team.

But the next charge went further – she was also sacked because “she told people she was innocent”. This takes the matter beyond the issue of industrial relations and creates a philosophical puzzle. It would certainly transform the legal system if a judge could say, “I find you not guilty of armed robbery. However, on the more serious charge of telling people you were innocent I find you guilty”. Maybe the Trust could come up with extra charges along these lines, such as “she contemplated the nature of innocence”, or “she offended the concept of perfection by considering human innocence despite our essentially flawed soul”.

Being guilty of saying you’re innocent is the sort of crime you read about in some crazed dictatorship run by an admirer of Stalin. Maybe the statement they were expecting from Karen was, “O magisterial budgetness, I humbly beseech thee with my pitiful confession of ultimate guilt, for the Trust is truly divine and therefore can not be doubted in its holy bed-cutting glory”.

And the fourth charge was “she allowed the press to print misleading statements about her case”. What a test case that would be if they get away with it. Every time someone has a pack of lies written about them in the press, they’ll be arrested for it. It would be quite a twist for the McCanns – the Daily Express headline would be, “Yesterday we said they were guilty. Today they’re to be charged with allowing us to lie that they’re guilty. Have they NO shame?”

Everyone who’s been released from prison when it’s turned out they were innocent would be re-tried, with the judge concluding that “if the accused had committed the murder for which he was wrongly convicted, that would have been bad enough. But by being innocent of the charges, it means the press reports claiming he was guilty were misleading, so he caused poor Mr Murdoch to print misleading statements saying he was guilty. Furthermore, the accused also told other people he was innocent, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, once he was in jail, he told people he’d been sent to jail”.

The people of Manchester don’t appear to have followed this logic, which is why the 180 staff of the Trust have gone on strike to demand Karen’s reinstatement, and the campaign to support them (at Manchester Community and Mental Health UNISON, Chorlton House, Manchester Road, Manchester) is growing. Maybe that’s because the sacking seems like an attempt to intimidate all health workers against speaking about budget cuts. Or maybe because the Manchester Mental Health Trust is officially rated 173rd out of 175 in the country, which is terrifying. Because it means somewhere there’s two other Trusts even worse than the one run by these idiots.

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KAREN’S DIARY: “I had to tell my 80-year-old mum her daughter had been sacked from the job she loved”.

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I started the day by signing on.

This was the first time I had done this for 25 years. I must admit I never expected to have to do it again.

It took me 90 minutes in all – it was a fairly dispiriting and humiliating experience. But there was one lighter moment when they did actually ask me if I was engaged in an industrial dispute! The chap apologised for not recognising me after I told him what had happened. There was no box on the form though to tell them that 150 colleagues were out on strike in support of freedom of speech.

Then I made a phone call to a Labour councillor in Manchester who I have known for years. He used to work in mental health and has been an active trade unionist himself.

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I asked for his support and his public backing for the campaign.  He told me that he had met with some colleagues last week and they had discussed my case. (I wish they had invited me so I could answer any of their questions!)

After their meeting they had apparently decided to restrict their comments to this:  “Karen is still going through the official process so it is inappropriate for us to make any further comment.” 

I was a bit gobsmacked to say the least. He said that I still had an appeal to go through – if I had a good case, then I would be reinstated!

He did not seem to appreciate or understand that I have already been through seven days of a disciplinary process where absolutely nothing to justify my sacking was produced in evidence against me. I was sacked, simply, on four charges – all of which related to me speaking out about the mental health service in Manchester.

He just did not get it. He didn’t even know the charges which were brought against me: –

  • Bringing the Trust into “disrepute” by being interviewed for a magazine article in which I criticised the transfer of NHS care to the voluntary sector
  • Speaking out and telling people that I had been suspended and exactly why
  • Protesting my innocence publicly (presumably I should have done this privately)
  • “Allowing” the press to print misleading articles about me

 Another charge that  “I may have misused time” was dropped.

My old trade unionst ‘friend’ kept repeating that if i had been accused of “speaking out” then clearly that was not a sackable offence. So I would be OK  “within the process”. No need to worry.

He didn’t seem to realise that because I have been sacked, I now have no money to live on.

He didn’t seem to understand that my wages have been stopped. 

I have had the heartbreaking task of phoning my 80-year-old mother – who was a nurse herself for more than 30 years – to break the news that her daughter has just been sacked from the job she loved.

Suddenly my professional identity has been stolen from me – I am no longer the community psychiatric nurse I have been for the last 25 years.

And I feel I have been forced to abandon my patients – the vulnerable people I have worked with and cared for over the years. 

All of this seemed to come as something of a surprise to him. It was as if it hadn’t really happened.

I could not believe that this man, a Labour councillor and active trade unionist, expected me to put my trust and faith in a system and a “process” that has already failed me once and failed my patients.

This much respected “process” first suspended me because I expressed my views. Then this fantastically fair “process” sacked me on separate charges of speaking out about the state of the mental health service I work in.

How can a “process” that has then gone on to employ private investigators against me, use private HR services and been so unfair in its judgement, be trusted to suddenly become fair?

The councillor then tried to say that he and his colleagues were worried about the state of Manchester’s mental health services, that they were in the worst three per cent of trusts in the UK and that this is what they now most wanted to focus their attention on.

What does he think my campaign is fundamentally all about?

I am very glad that he is now concerned about the state of mental health services in Manchester. But where was he during the last 18 months when staff have been appealing at council meetings and scrutiny committees, lobbying and writing letters. We got no response then.  Perhaps the councillor’s silence encouraged the Trust to think they could suspend and sack anyone who dared to raise their voice about what was happening?

My trust is a joint health and local authority provided service. Councillors therefore cannot avoid some responsibilty for the condition of mental health services in Manchester. It is up to them to try and put it right.

It is clear to anyone who examines this issue for a second, that I have been sacked precisely for speaking out and organising campaigns against the cuts in mental health services. Suddenly some councillors now start to become interested – perhaps that’s their way of avoiding dealing with my case?

As I got angrier, I asked my councillor ‘friend’ who he expected to speak out against cuts next time? Who would want to put themselves in my shoes?

He repeated: “If you have been sacked for speaking out, the ‘process’ will see you right even if that is eventually at an employment tribunal.” (He seemed to accept that I would lose any appeal and that I wouhld have to spend months taking my case to an employment tribunal.)

By this stage I was almost speechless with anger. I could not tell him that the day I was suspended, I got a letter promoting me to the highest nursing grade. So no complaints about my professionalism or dedication. Just that I wasn’t prepared to keep my mouth shut about the state of mental health services. 

Public servants deserve better from a Labour-governed NHS and a Labour-controlled local council. We should not have to wait for justice from the courts! We expect Labour councillors to stand up for the principle of free speech, to protect whistleblowers and to uphold the principles of free trade unionism.

I don’t think I will be the only person who is disappointed with the cowardly fence-sitting of this particular Labour councillor.

But I am not going to keep quiet about the state of the service I care deeply about – and nor, thankfully, are lots of other people.

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MEETING TO SUPPORT KAREN ON WEDNESDAY

Reinstate Karen Reissmann 

We have a right to fight NHS cuts.

All welcome

Wednesday 14th November

7pm, Mechanics Institute,

Princess St [entrance Major St], Manchester

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