Pathology workers at Leeds hospitals could go on strike because of a dispute about working arrangements.
Negotiations are underway between unions and bosses at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in a bid to avoid industrial action.
The long-running row involves proposed changes to shift working for the staff, mainly biomedical scientists, who carry out a range of tests vital for the running of the hospitals.
Terry Cunliffe, from the union Unite, said they wanted to try and avoid a strike but their members were worried about the safety of patients and workers themselves as a result of the changes.
More than 140 workers, based at pathology laboratories at Leeds General Infirmary, St James’s Hospital and Bradford Royal Infirmary – but employed by Leeds hospitals - are affected.
The dispute centres around changes to their working patterns from standard day working and employees being on-call on the hospital site to a shift working arrangement.
Hospital bosses say they need to make changes because the arrangement differs from all other hospitals in the country, with a small number of workers in Leeds being paid more and having more rest periods.
They say that changes must be made as the hospitals trust needs to cut costs because of dwindling NHS budgets.
In a report to directors of the hospital trust’s board, new interim chief executive Chris Reed said it was one of the “immediate issues” he faced and that he had met staff to hear their concerns.
“We have made it clear that change will have to go ahead but that this must be with proposals that are safe for patients and staff,” he said.
“From these meetings I know that staff understand that if there is to be any industrial action, which we would much prefer to avoid, that safe emergency services must be provided.”
At a board meeting, trust chief operating officer Mark Smith said they had emphasised that the proposals needed to go ahead but they would like to successfully negotiate on the issue.
Mr Cunliffe said there were still discussions ongoing about emergency cover in the event of a strike.
But he added: “Ultimately there’s a desire on both sides to resolve this dispute and then the debate about emergency cover will become academic.”
He said their members were concerned that if new rotas were not planned properly, they may not be enough staff, or staff with the correct skills, to complete work properly.
“Our concerns are about the safety of our members, and the safety of patients.”
There were financial implications too, he added, but patient safety was the paramount issue.