A call has been made for an independent inquiry by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) into the long-running Yorkshire ambulance dispute, as paramedics and ambulance staff prepare for two more strikes this week.
Unite, the country’s largest union, said that such an inquiry was needed so the Yorkshire public could judge for itself the impact on patient safety of £46 million of cuts over five years.
Unite’s 375 members will hold two further strikes on Friday (14 February) between 15.00 and 20.00 and next Monday (17 February) at the same time over the imminent introduction of elongated shift patterns that could mean working ten hours without a meal break.
The latest chapter in the dispute about the impact on patient safety – and Unite’s derecognition for raising those concerns – comes after revelations that the trust’s bosses were swanning about in top of the range Mercedes and BMWs – which, Unite condemned as “breathtaking hypocrisy”.
Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “The latest strikes over elongated shift patterns follow the latest refusal of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust to meet Unite to resolve the dispute.
“I would emphasis that the trust’s executive did not enter face-to-face negotiations to resolve the dispute at Acas-brokered talks which led to strike action taking place on 1 and 3 February.
“It has now refused to meet the union to seek agreement to avoid this week’s strike action.
“We would welcome an independent enquiry by the CQC to determine whether it is Unite or the trust’s executives who are misleading the public about the facts in this dispute, including the reason for Unite’s derecognition; patient safety; and whether the trust’s plan is focused on patient care or is just a five-year £46 million cost cutting exercise.
“It is also very significant that Unison members have also rejected the trust proposals by a 70 per cent to 30 per cent majority.
“We are continuing to work with community representatives, commissioners and MPs throughout the region to reach a fair settlement for the Yorkshire public and our dedicated members.
“We understand that there will be public concern about this action and would want to assure them that this is a last resort as a result of the trust’s executives refusal to negotiate with Unite.”
Unite members struck for 24 hours on Saturday 1 February 2014 which was then followed by a four hour strike last Monday (3 February).
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.
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 ambulance members previously took strike action on April 2 and June 7, 2013 over patient safety concerns.