Supplies strike to hit NHS hospitals in England

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LONDON (Reuters), Sep 21 - National Health Service workers will stage the first of two 24-hour strikes on Thursday, which could seriously disrupt medical and food supplies to hospitals across England.

The first walkout by members of public service Unison at five NHS Logistics depots will start at 10 p.m. after staff voted to strike earlier this month. It will be the first national strike in the NHS for 18 years.

The action is in protest against plans to outsource the medical supplies service to German-owned courier company DHL and American healthcare contractor Novation.

It will be followed by a second strike on September 26, timed to coincide with a debate on the NHS at the Labour Party conference in Manchester.

Unison said it balloted 900 staff, who voted 74% for industrial action on a 66% turnout.

"There can be absolutely no justification for privatizing this service," said Unison's Head of Health Karen Jennings.

Around 1,650 staff from NHS Logistics and the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (PASA) are due to be transferred to DHL, a subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Post, on October 1 under a government plan unveiled earlier this month.

NHS Logistics was established in 2000 to source and deliver products ranging from food to bedding and medical equipment to hospitals, doctors' surgeries, and other NHS organizations.

The government says the NHS will save 1 billion pounds under a 10-year contract with DHL by expanding the range of products supplied.

The Department of Health has said the one-day strike will not cause significant disruption and that it has contingency plans in place.

Last Updated: 2006-09-21 11:01:35 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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