Trade unionist sacked for press interview to appeal

A nurse sacked after speaking to the press has warned that the NHS will suffer if health workers are banned from speaking to journalists.

Karen Reissman, who worked for Manchester Mental Health Trust and was a Unison official, was fired earlier this month for gross misconduct after a 20-week suspension, after she gave an interview with a small community magazine about the transferral of some of the trust’s work to the voluntary sector.

Since 8 November, 150 staff – a quarter of the trust’s workforce, who provide community care for around 1,000 mental health patients in Manchester – have been on strike in support of Reissman and have said they will not return to work until she is reinstated.

She has appealed against her sacking and is waiting for a date for a tribunal. The trust said it had begun fresh negotiations to resolve the dispute.

Reissman told Press Gazette: ‘If I’m not allowed to speak to a journalist because I’m criticising a section of NHS policy, then essentially criticism of the Government and its policies stops.

‘I don’t think it’s in the interests of journalism, the patients, the NHS or the staff.

‘The trust says it wants bad news stories to stop – we say the way to stop them is to stop doing bad things. We’re not prepared to keep quiet.”

The article was printed late last year in Internal Enterprise, a small Manchester-based magazine for the local enterprise industry which is no longer running. Reissman told journalist Sarah Irving that she opposed parts of the trust’s work being tendered out to local, not-for-profit firms.

The piece was for a special feature on social enterprise, and Irving said she had no idea that the trust would react so strongly.

‘We had several articles written for the feature from people who thought social enterprise was positive, but we very much felt that, because there was controversy over this, it was appropriate to also run something critical.

‘I think the reaction is disproportionate – it’s an attempt to stop union reps speaking out in the press. If trade union stewards can’t speak in broad terms about government policy then who can?”

A Manchester Mental Health Trust spokesman said: ‘The trust remains committed to working with its recognised unions and staff and will continue to provide every opportunity for that to take place.

‘It appreciates that union members can and will voice their opinions publicly.

‘The trust also has a clear ‘whistleblowing’ policy, which allows staff to bring any concerns they have to the attention of the trust if they have not been able to resolve the issue in the usual way through their line manager.”

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