Angry UK Ambulance Crews May Strike
ANGRY ambulance workers could stage a strike over patient safety and the "de-recognition" of Unite.
The union announced yesterday it plans to begin the legal process of balloting its 450 paramedic and ambulance staff workers at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust for strike action.
The dispute is over the trust's decision last week to "de-recognise" Unite. Unite claims this is so managers can silence the union from raising patient safety concerns.
Unite's regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: "I can confirm that Unite has begun the legal process to hold an industrial action ballot over the trust's unilateral decision to de-recognise Unite.
"The management is trying to silence Unite after it raised legitimate concerns over patient safety that could flow from the shake-up of ambulance services in the next five years.
"The trust's behaviour is mindboggling given last week's Francis report, which placed great emphasis on whistle-blowing and 'a duty of candour'.
"Whatever the outcome of the ballot, our members will always put patient safety first."
The union is angered by the trust's decision to introduce emergency care assistants (ECAs) to work alongside trained paramedics. The ECA staff are given six weeks' training, compared with a paramedic's two-year degree course.
Unite says this introduction has resulted in managers sending "unqualified" staff to emergencies with, in some cases, other ECAs or unqualified assistant practitioners. The union also claims responses to 999 calls have become a postcode lottery. On Saturday, the Mail spoke to a paramedic who claimed, on occasions, ECAs have been paired with other less-skilled workers.
The paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "There are assistant practitioners, who know basic first aid, and emergency care assistants, who only have six weeks' training.
"They are supposed to be paired with much more qualified paramedics and emergency medical technicians. But, on occasions, the two less qualified roles have been paired together.
"It is giving people who call 999 a false impression.
"They think they are getting a paramedic who has the proper training and skills.
"This is a dangerous, time-bomb situation." The introduction of ECAs forms part of plans by the trust to save £46m over the next five years.
Unite says the trust has more than 300 staff who will be demoted and de-skilled as a result of the plans being introduced and the majority of these workers will have little or no opportunity for further training for at least seven years.
Although Unite has been de-recognised, the trust has said it will continue to work with Unison and that Unite members can still be represented on individual matters.
David Whiting, chief executive of Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: "We carefully reflected upon this difficult matter before advising Unite of our decision to de-recognise them.
"Unfortunately, the working relationship with Unite remains disappointing and we have not received a constructive contribution to the difficult decisions that the trust has been required to make for the future, particularly as we seek to maintain high-quality care for patients against the realities of the tough economic climate.
"I would like to reassure members of the public that all our decisions are focused on continuing to deliver a high-quality and responsive service to patients and this will always remain our top priority." A spokesman said that, with regards to ECAs, support can be requested, should the need arise.
Follow Emma on Twitter @HDMEMMAWRIGHT InShort Unite has announced it will begin balloting paramedics and staff members at Yorkshire Ambulance Service for strike action, after it was "de-recognised".
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