About 700 mental health workers are on strike in Manchester in protest at the suspension of a shop steward.
The three-day walkout which started yesterday has led to some psychiatric patients being moved to centres up to 100 miles away. Others have been sent home.
Unison said it was shocked at the move but Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust said it had no alternative.
Karen Reissman, a community psychiatric nurse at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, was suspended eight weeks ago after the trust alleged she had brought it into disrepute by her criticism of government policies and local health cuts. Reissman is a member of Unison’s national health executive and chair of her branch..
Unison had launched a ballot on July 25, arguing Reissman had been “gagged” by the trust.
“We believe attempts to discipline Karen are an attempt to prevent her from speaking out and to intimidate other stewards from opposing and speaking out against cuts in service,” a Unison spokesperson said.
The union claims 60 psychiatric patients at North Manchester General Hospital have been moved to private facilities.
Although it did not give exact figures, the trust said patients were moved to Alpha Care in Bury and to Affinity Health Care in Darlington.
Sandra Corrigan, one of the nurses on strike, told journalists: “None of them were happy about going, some of them were shouting and screaming out of the taxi windows as they were driven away.”
But the trust said those patients that had been moved were settling in well, while 32 were clinically assessed to be fit enough to go home for a short period of leave.
Despite the industrial action, about half of the trust’s staff reported for work yesterday and 14 out of 17 wards remain operational.
Chief Executive Sheila Foley said care and safety of patients was the trust’s priority.
“During our visits around the trust today, we observed that patients were being well cared for and are extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of staff under challenging circumstances,” she told the BBC.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and respond and change arrangements if necessary.”