Medway Hospital has defended its recent change to theatre staff rosters.
Unite announced yesterday it would invite staff to vote on taking industrial action next year.
The union says the changes will put patient safety in danger and could force staff to work up to 60 hours a week.
But the hospital has defended the changes and has worked hard with the hospital to come up with a solution to staffing problems.
Karen Rule, director of nursing at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are disappointed that Unite members have taken the decision to ballot for industrial action.
“The changes that are being proposed to the rostering of theatre staff are to improve how we care for patients and their safety, as well as staff wellbeing.
“We want to make sure that we make the most of our operating theatres and by moving to the new rota system we will be able to work more efficiently.
“We know that our patients want to be seen and treated as soon as possible, and by making our staffing more efficient we will be able to conduct more procedures, which means more people being treated earlier.
A new roster was introduced on November 13 which Unite say meant hospital staff had to work 12 hours with just a 10 minute break between each patient rather than 30 minutes.
They also said it meant some staff were scheduled to work 60 hours a week.
But according to the hospital, a small number of staff were working up to seven days in a row and 75 hours a week under the old system, while others were working far fewer.
Karen added: “It would also be unsustainable for staff wellbeing to continue with the current arrangements.
“The new, fairer rota model would bring all theatre staff working patterns in line with those of staff on our other wards at Medway and the NHS nationally, including other theatre departments, with staff working an average of 37.5 hours a week and no more than 47 hours total over a seven day period.
“We appreciate that any changes to working patterns can initially be disruptive to staff and want to support staff when these changes are made.
“We hope that we will be able to both come to an agreement that will mean that we can provide the better care for patients that we are aspiring to deliver, will be acceptable to all parties and avoid disruption to the care of our patients through needless strikes.”
The trust has also said it is committed to continuing to talk to staff on these issues and find an agreement that will provide better care for patients which is acceptable for all parties and avoid disruption.
Unite regional officer, Kathy Walters, claimed: “The new rosters are a definite threat to patient safety as theatre staff will be exhausted if they have to work well over their contracted hours in a week. Staff are working the new rotas under protest.
“The management needs to come up with a coherent action plan to tackle the massive recruitment and retention crisis, and put patient safety first.
“The goodwill of hardworking NHS staff is wearing very thin and our members are at breaking point.”
The 74 staff members have been asked by Unite to vote on strike or industrial action between December 4 and 21.