Ballot preparations come after NHS Trust broke off talks over introduction of less-qualified ambulance assistants rather than fully-qualified paramedics

Tim Lezard

Yorkshire-ambulanceHundreds of Yorkshire ambulance workers could strike in an increasingly acrimonious dispute over changes which Unite says will threaten patient safety.

It comes after the ambulance service trust broke off talks with Unite over the proposed introduction of less-qualified and part-time assistants rather than fully-qualified paramedics.

The union says it has taken the first steps to ballot more than 450 paramedics and other emergency staff.

Officials say managers at the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust are trying to prevent the union from raising patient safety concerns.

Regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “The trust’s behaviour is mind-boggling given last week’s Francis report [into avoidable deaths at the Mid Staffordshire NHS hopsitals] 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.”

Executives at the Trust say their working relationship with Unite is “disappointing” because they have “not received a constructive contribution” to introduce emergency care assistants (ECAs) to work alongside more highly-trained paramedics.

The proposal is part of a 5-year budget plan designed to save £46m.

De-recognition of a trade union inside the NHS is rare, although employment analysts believe it could be in line with the wishes of some Coalition ministers to devolve greater control of industrial relations matters to individual health trusts.

It could result in the removal of facility time from Unite reps at the Trust and the union’s exclusion from further negotiations over the ECA proposals.

The lower-paid ECA grade was introduced in the NHS four years ago, but was originally designed only to allow assistants to drive emergency vehicles and to help transport patients.

The Yorkshire Ambulance Service Trust says ECAs are widely used in other regions of England, however critics point out that they receive only 6 weeks basic first aid training, unlike paramedics who are trained for three years.

ECAs are not permitted to give injections or administer many life-saving drugs.

Unite says managers are deploying unqualified staff to emergencies in a ‘postcode lottery’ for 999 callers.

Officials say the result of the ballot could be announced before the end of the month.

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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