Today saw Manchester’s mental health nurses begin an all out indefinite strike following the dismissal of Karen Reissmann, a senior nurse and union organiser. Karen was found guilty of gross misconduct, having brought the third worst performing NHS Trust of its kind into disrepute by speaking to the media against planned reforms. Karen was sacked on 5 November, which was Stand Up For Journalism day, and that made her a star turn at the rally: speech here (MP3).
The Trust itself has pretty much gone to ground. Their own lawyers will be demanding they stay silent for fear of prejudicing the inevitable appeal and industrial tribunal. Consequently, only Karen Reissmann’s side of the story will be heard. But they’ve only themselves to blame.
An SWP/Respect activist, Reissmann almost certainly does have a wider agenda, but this does not matter. Her critique of planned mental health reforms focussed on the extended use of the voluntary sector and was perfectly reasonable. In any case gagging Reissmann, whose belief that the planned reforms will be bad for patients is clearly genuine, is unacceptable.
Moreover, mental health is an important public service in which we all have a stake. Rather than attempting to close down debate, Trust managers should have embraced criticism as an opportunity to educate all on the issues they face. The case for reform could only be strengthened by an open process in which the proposals were explained, challenged and revised. Such a process would maximise informed consent for change.
Instead a hamfisted attempt to gag a critic has resulted in fourteen days lost to strike action over the summer and an indefinite strike from today. The Trust has clearly lost the confidence of its nurses who, Channel M reports below, are 100 per cent behind Reissmann. It appears to have been gagged by a legal procedure it initiated from speaking out in its own defence and an opportunity to reform with the consent of health workers may have been missed.