Yorkshire ambulance staff are being balloted for strike action over changes in shift patterns which could mean paramedics going more than 10 hours without a meal break and staff being forced to work 12 hour shifts.
Unite, the country’s largest union, is balloting its 450 members at the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust for strike action over the introduction of new elongated shift patterns next month.
The shift patterns are not family friendly and will lead to an overtired workforce. There has been no consultation with Unite over the rotas which are being ‘rushed in’ early next month. The ballot closes on Friday January 24.
Unite said that the proposals would impact on patient safety as hard working ambulance staff could go more than 10 hours without a meal break, as such breaks would be at the whim of managers. The union wants a protected meal break of 30 minutes after six hours.
Unite has been in a long-running dispute with the trust, headed by chief executive David Whiting, over its concerns relating to patient safety and large scale funding cuts of £46 million over a five year period.
The first anniversary of the trust’s derecognition of Unite for raising these concerns falls on Tuesday 4 February. In November, the paramedics lobbied the county’s MPs on the situation which includes their replacement, in some cases, by emergency care assistant (ECAs) who are being given only six weeks training, while paramedics have to undergo a two-year degree course.
The union is also increasingly concerned at the continued and increasing use of private ambulance firms to ‘plug the gaps’ in NHS 999 responses which was particularly noticeable in December and over the Christmas and New Year period.
According to the trust’s own figures, the number of responses by private ambulances between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013 was 3,903. This had jumped to 10,297 in just five months, 1 April 2013 and 31 August 2013 – an increase of 164 per cent. While in December, in some large cities, at least a third of crews attending 999 calls were supplied by private firms.
Unite believes that this is part of the trust’s unspoken strategy of preparing the ambulance service for privatisation by the back door.
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “Our members, who are doing their best for the Yorkshire public in very difficult circumstances, have been under sustained attack by the trust’s hardline management for more than a year.
“The latest erosion in their employment conditions is the demand to work elongated shifts which could mean them working more than ten hours on the trot before managers deign to give them a meal break. This could affect their ability to do their jobs – helping people in distress.
“I think the people of Yorkshire will find that this is completely unacceptable.”
Unite has called for more training for the ECAs, so they have the proper skill set to tackle the more demanding tasks now being asked of them.
Unite ambulance members previously took strike action on 2 April and 7 June 2013 over concerns regarding patient safety.