Yorkshire Ambulance strike to hit 999 services

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Ambulance workers will be on strike from noon today in a row over patient safety and trade union rights.

The Unite union balloted its 500 members at Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) over fears that patient safety would be put at risk when semi-skilled healthcare assistants are sent to 999 call outs.

Bosses at YAS have insisted safety will not be compromised by a restructure which will slash £46m from its budget over five years.

They also de-recognised Unite for negotiations on behalf of its members after the union raised safety fears.

Unite members will stage a 12-hour strike from noon today, and Unite has threatened a further 24-hour stoppage on June 22. Today’s strike follows a 24-hour stoppage by Unite on April 2.

Terry Cunliffe, Unite’s regional officer, appealed for YAS to enter into talks to resolve the dispute.

He said: “Our members are increasingly concerned about patient safety because of the downgrading of the current skill level on NHS frontline vehicles in Yorkshire.

“We call, yet again, on the blinkered, hardline management at the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust to enter into meaningful talks with Unite.

“The continuing refusal of the management to discuss patient safety, which led to the de-recognition of the union, has left our members with no option but to take further industrial action.”

YAS bosses said 999 services would be under strain during the strike, and accused Unite of making no concessions for patient safety.

Chief executive David Whiting said: “Our contingency plans are focused on providing a safe, responsive and high-quality emergency service to patients and this will always remain our top priority.

“I would like to reiterate that I remain deeply concerned over this type of action, which I know is of concern to all of our A&E staff, who are very committed to patient care, and will place many of them in a very difficult situation.”

YAS appealed for people only to dial 999 in a genuine emergency, and to visit a pharmacist, GP surgery or walk-in centre for non-urgent problems.

Mr Whiting added: “We recognise the legal right for those of our staff who are members of the union to participate in industrial action, but our focus is to balance that right with the need to first safeguard patient care and safety.

“Throughout the 12-hour period of the strike, and the continuous overtime ban that Unite the Union commenced on 26 March 2013, our focus will be on taking steps to maintain operational cover to sustain effective and safe services for patients calling upon us for assistance.”