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Union to ballot 450 staff of Yorkshire Ambulance Service Trust on fears over services shake-up
Bradford ambulance workers could go on strike in dispute over patient safety and derecognition of Unite, bosses at the country’s largest union say.
Unite announced yesterday that it was starting the legal process to ballot its 450 paramedics and other ambulance staff members at the trust for strike action or industrial action short of strike. The ballot result could be known by the end of the month.
Unite 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 derecognise 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 mind-boggling given last week’s Francis report which placed great emphasis on whistleblowing and ‘a duty of candour’.
“Whatever the outcome of the ballot, our members will always put patient safety first.”
A key proposal by the trust – in a bid to save £46m over the next five years – is the introduction of emergency care assistants (ECAs) to work alongside more highly-trained paramedics. The ECA staff have only six weeks training, when a paramedic undergoes a two-year degree course.
Unite says this means 999 calls will become a postcode lottery where the sick and injured may get attention from a fully-trained paramedic crew but could end up with a private ambulance containing unqualified staff.
Yesterday, Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust was sticking by action it took on February 4 when it ceased to voluntarily recognise Unite for the purposes of negotiations on behalf of their members.
However, the trust said it remained committed to working in partnership with Unison, which is not affected by the decision to derecognise Unite, and to the principles of effective consultation and negotiation.
David Whiting, chief executive of the trust, said: “We carefully reflected upon this difficult matter before advising Unite of our decision to derecognise them.
“Unfortunately, the working relationship with Unite remains disappointing and we have not received a constructive contribution to the difficult decisions 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 patients will always remain our top priority.”