CHIROPODISTS and podiatrists at a Wirral hospital have walked out today as part of an on-going dispute into a planned restructure of the service.

The day of action, taking place outside St Catherine's Hospital in Birkenhead, follows an overwhelming ballot by the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCP), in which 88% of the union's members voted in favour of downing tools.

The dispute is over prospects of a third of the workforce of 24 highly skilled and qualified front line NHS staff potentially losing up to £5,000 of their salary per year, as Wirral Community Health Services seeks to downband jobs to achieve a cost saving in the order of £30K a year.

Union members have proposed an alternative formula that would achieve the same savings, but say this has not been accepted by Wirral Management despite several meetings to attempt to resolve the dispute.

Wirral Community NHS Trust says it is working with the society to bring about a satisfactory resolution.

But Brian Harris, the SCP’s director of employment relations, said: "We have been in talks since October 2013 and although the trust has moved away from their original proposals the fact remains that a third of our members are going to see their wages slashed if these proposals are carried through.

"It is just not acceptable that these highly trained and highly skilled front line NHS professionals who have dedicated their lives to the health service and their patients should be expected to pay this price for their employer to achieve cost savings when alternative proposals are available.

"SCP members are not prepared to pay the price of slashed pay in order to deliver cost savings which won’t improve the service to the community that our members provide."

The union represents over 10,000 professionally qualified chiropodists and podiatrists.

In a statement, Wirral Community NHS Trust said: "Despite on-going negotiations between Wirral Community NHS Trust and the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, regrettably, a decision has been taken by the Society to stage one day of industrial action.

“Arrangements have been put in place to reschedule appointments and to ensure we are able to respond to any urgent patient needs.

“We continue to work with the Society and our staff in order to bring about a satisfactory resolution.”