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Ambulance staff vote for 24-hour strike action
Ambulance staff in Yorkshire will hold a 24-hour strike next month after being balloted by the country’s biggest union.
The stoppage by 450 paramedics and other ambulance staff members will take place on Tuesday, April 2, unless a last-ditch solution is found, Unite warned yesterday.
Its members have also voted to hold a continuous overtime ban starting on March 26 – a week today.
In response, Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust said it had plans in place to avoid disruption to patients if the industrial action went ahead.
Unite said that it was derecognised as a trade union by the Trust after it raised concerns about patient safety as a result of the trust proposing to save £46 million over the next five years.
The union said that a key proposal by the trust was the introduction of emergency care assistants (ECAs) to work alongside more highly-trained paramedics.
The ECA staff have only six weeks’ training, whereas a paramedic undergoes a two-year degree course, it said.
The union said that this introduction had resulted in managers deploying unqualified staff to emergencies with, in some cases, other ECAs or unqualified assistant practitioners.
Unite said that it had twice attempted to discuss the implications of industrial action and also asked for the dispute to be referred to the conciliation service Acas – but the management at the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust had rebuffed the offer.
The results of its ballot released yesterday showed that 61.8 per cent of those who took part voted in favour of strike action, with 38.2 per cent voting against. Eighty-three per cent voted in favour of industrial action, short of a strike, and 17 per cent against.
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “Unite calls for the management to open constructive negotiations in the run-up to April 2.
“This is a final window of opportunity for the trust to resolve this situation for the benefit of the Yorkshire public.
“The management has been 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.”
Stephen Moir, deputy chief executive at the ambulance trust – which employs 4,300 staff, said last night: “We would like to reassure members of the public that the changes we are introducing to our A&E workforce will enable us to continue to deliver a high quality and responsive service to patients and they will always remain our top priority.
“We would also like to provide assurance that the Trust has plans in place to avoid any disruption to patient care if the union members decide to go ahead with the industrial action.”
The strike threat has divided opinion among some of the district’s MPs.
Bradford East Liberal Democrat MP, David Ward, (Lib Dem) said: “While I think that it is admirable that hard- working ambulance staff are concerned over patient safety and taking action to ensure that their voices are heard, I do not think that striking over a busy holiday period and potentially putting lives at risk is the best way to conduct themselves.”
Shipley MP Conservative Philip Davies said that he was “very disappointed” in the decision to hold a strike and believed it to be a mistake.
“I don’t see how people claiming to be acting in favour of patient safety can take strike action which can only have the effect of jeopardising patient safety,” he said.
Keighley tory MP Kris Hopkins, said: “I’m appalled. I have huge regard for the professional and often heroic work done by our ambulance staff, but this is not the right way to settle the dispute. I hope good sense will quickly prevail and the strike is called off.”
Bradford West Respect MP, George Galloway, said the strike was a “completely avoidable catastrophe” and called for ambulance trust bosses to hold talks with the union.
“I believe that the vast majority of the public will support the ambulance workers in this dispute,” he said.
“The least they deserve is to be treated with respect by their bosses and have their legitimate grievances properly addressed.”
Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe was not available for comment.