MEDICAL secretaries have voted to strike for more pay in a move which threatens to bring chaos to the North-East's hospitals.

More than 280 medical secretaries working at the City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Trust and Northumbria Health Care NHS Trust have overwhelmingly backed industrial action over a grading dispute.

Similar ballots are planned at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust and are being considered at South Durham Health Care NHS Trust, North Durham Health Care NHS Trust and South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust.

More than 3,000 medical secretaries work in the region's hospitals, providing a vital link between patients, GPs and consultants.

If they walk out, most hospitals would face disruption, possibly leading to delayed operations.

Trevor Johnston, Unison regional officer, said feelings among the medical secretaries, who are paid between £11,037 and £12,815 were "running high".

Although they did not want to affect patient care, Mr Johnston said they were no longer prepared to accept low wages when many of their colleagues in Scotland and the South of England were being paid up to £2,700 more for the same work.

"The responsibilities of medical secretaries have increased hugely over the past decade but there has been neither recognition nor reward for them," said Mr Johnston.

"These staff are hugely undervalued and we believe they are entitled to a higher grade."

Unison representatives are due to meet later this week to decide the next step forward.

A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: "We are disappointed that the medical secretaries have opted for strike action, but will continue our discussions in order to reach an agreement in line with trust procedures.

"We will do all we can to ensure that any action does not affect patient care."