The troubled North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) NHS Trust has been accused of ‘dragging its feet’ in its investigation over an alleged racist comment directed at a leading Unite rep.
Unite the union said that the paramedic complained to the trust bosses in January this year about the remarks made towards her – and six months later there still has been no conclusion to the disciplinary process.
This is the latest example of poor employment relations to hit the trust as its ambulance staff are set 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.
Originally, the trust wanted ambulance crews to travel across the region with up to 40 minutes driving time. The trust has now agreed to reduce the running time to 30 minutes, but the unions still consider this to be too long and discussions with management are continuing.
Unite lead officer for health in the north west Gary Owen said, “We have an unacceptable situation where one of our dedicated reps, a paramedic, has had to wait six months to obtain justice from the trust’s disciplinary process.
“In December 2020, she was the subject of an alleged racist comment and once she became aware of this she immediately complained to her employer about it in January 2021,” he added.
“However, we have since discovered that the trust was aware that this colleague had made a racist remark some six months earlier – in or around June 2020 – and has allowed the two of them to work together for those six months, with our rep blissfully unaware of the type of person she was working alongside,” Owen continued.
“And so here we are in June 2021 – some six months later – and the alleged perpetrator has still not been bought to task as the trust ‘drags its feet’ in concluding the disciplinary process.
“Our member has now had to take annual leave and return to work before the perpetrator has been dealt with by the trust to avoid dropping to half sick pay,” he went on to say. “In the meantime, the alleged perpetrator has continued to work, earning a regular salary, plus overtime earnings which have been boosted by the extra work caused by the pandemic.
“We want the trust to press the accelerator on the disciplinary process to bring ‘closure’ and peace of mind for our rep – this is not an unreasonable expectation. Our member just wants to get back to work doing the job she loves without the fear of the colleague, subject to this hearing, making her life a misery.
“Unfortunately, this case is another example of the poor management at the trust as demonstrated by Unite, the GMB and Unison demanding change in the procedure that saw exhausted ambulance workers called anywhere across the region with up to 40 minutes driving time.
“This has now been scaled back to 30 minutes, but we have had no assurance that this will be limited to one 30 minute run or will it be repetitive runs? Staff are on their knees which is shown by the fact that the uptake of overtime has reduced significantly.”
The three unions are still considering holding 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, even at the scaled back 30 minute limit, often means 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.
By Shaun Noble