North West ambulance staff are to hold a consultative ballot over whether to proceed to an industrial action ballot about a new system that is leaving them exhausted because of excessive mileage.
Unite the union, the GMB and Unison have called on bosses at the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) NHS Trust to change the procedure that can see ambulance workers called anywhere across the region with up to 40 minutes driving time. The Royal College of Nursing has also expressed ‘deep concern’.
The three unions will now hold a consultative ballot of their members in the next month to see if they then wish to have a full-scale industrial action ballot, including the option to strike – after accusing the trust management of ‘failing both patients and staff’.
With the trust’s services covering the conurbations of Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside, Cumbria and Lancashire, the new system can often mean ambulances driving for miles across the region in ‘blue-light conditions’ for category 2 calls; only to then find themselves relieved by a more local ambulance team.
There are an estimated 4,500-5,000 999 calls to the trust every day – more than 50 per cent of which are identified as category 2. These calls are classed as an emergency for a potentially serious condition that may require rapid assessment, urgent on-scene intervention and/or urgent transport.
Unite branch secretary Neil Cosgrove said, “We are hearing of crews driving 40 minutes, under emergency conditions which is hazardous at any time, and then to be sent somewhere else and drive for another 40 minutes. This can be repeated several times in one shift.
“The ambulance crews are seeing and treating fewer patients, but driving for longer times and further distances,” he added.
“For some time, Unite has raised serious concerns with the management about the way in which these changes have been introduced and are now currently operating.
“They are having a significant adverse impact on our members’ physical and mental health and welfare, as well as posing a significant risk to patient care. This is no longer acceptable,” he continued.
“In essence, there are not enough ambulances and staff to meet the ever-increasing demand.”
Unite regional officer Gary Owen added, “We are working closely with the GMB and Unison, as well as the RCN, to address this serious issue which is caused by a lack of funding, and shortage of ambulances and trained crews.
“Our members, who have been in the Covid-19 frontline for the last 16 months, are feeling drained by these long journeys which can be called off if a local crew suddenly becomes available.
“Physical assaults on ambulance staff are documented to be on the rise – these delays in reaching patients can only increase that risk, which is avoidable and totally unacceptable,” he noted.
“The management seems impervious to reason and, as a result, Unite, GMB and Unison will be holding a consultative ballot soon to test the temperature as whether our respective members wish to hold a full scale industrial action ballot, including the option to strike.
“Hopefully, the trust enters in constructive talks before such a ballot is held. Unite’s door is open for such negotiations 24/7.”
By Shaun Noble