The refusal of an intransigent management to negotiate on patient and staff safety issues in Yorkshire has prompted two more strikes in the coming week by paramedics and ambulance staff – members of Unite, the country’s largest union.
Unite’s 375 members will hold two five-hour strikes on Friday (7 March) and Monday (10 March) over the introduction of elongated shift patterns that could mean staff working ten hours without a meal break. The strikes will be held between 1500 and 2000 on both days.
Unite, which has been locked in a year-long dispute with Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust over patient safety and derecognition of the union, is heartened by the stand taken by the trust’s biggest union, Unison, which has declared that it has ‘no faith’ in the trust’s chief executive David Whiting and his management team, and have threatened industrial action.
Unite has already called for an independent inquiry by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), so the Yorkshire public can judge for itself the impact on patient safety of £46 million of cuts over five years that the trust is implementing.
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “The latest strikes over elongated shift patterns are as a direct result of the intransigence of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust to meet Unite in a constructive frame of mind to resolve the dispute.
“We take heart that Unison members have now rejected the trust’s proposals by a 70 per cent to 30 per cent majority. We hope to work with our Unison colleagues to bring about a successful resolution to this dispute.
“We do understand that there will be public concern about the latest strike action. We want to continue to reassure them that this is a last resort due to the hardline management stance which has continued for more than a year against Unite, after we raised legitimate concerns over patient safety.
“This action could still be avoided if the chief executive would agree to joint negotiations with Unite and Unison to address their joint concerns.”
Unite said that the trust’s proposals would impact on patient safety as 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.
Terry Cunliffe added: “It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed as a result of staff exhaustion.”
The union has also expressed concern 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.
Unite’s Yorkshire ambulance members previously took strike action on 1, 3 14, 17 February 2014, and 2 April and 7 June last year over patient safety concerns.