East of England Ambulance crews could strike over working hours

An East of England Ambulance. Photo: Steve Adams

An East of England Ambulance. Photo: Steve Adams

Ambulance crews across the region could go on strike over working hours, this newspaper can reveal today.

Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary at East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary at East of England Ambulance Service Trust. - Credit: Archant

Staff union Unison, which has the majority membership of paramedics and other frontline staff, has informed the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) it will ballot members on industrial action, after a perceived inability of managers to deal with late finishes.

It comes just days after EEAST proposed to make controversial changes to staff's meal breaks and end of shift policy in a bid to improve its response times.

The trust, which is missing its emergency response time targets amid a big rise in demand, said: 'We tabled a proposal with Unison last week to help reduce late finishes for staff and reduce ambulance waits for patients.

'We are pleased that Unison have agreed to re-enter negotiations on these proposals, proposals that will benefit both staff and patients.

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'We strongly believe that by working together we can improve the service for staff and patients and would urge unison to help us move the organisation forwards positively.

'Tackling late finishes and patient safety has to be the most important issue for us all to tackle; and we cannot let our focus be distracted by any other issues.''

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Unison said 60pc of its 'patient-facing members in A&E operations' took part in an indicative ballot, and of those, 90pc of members said they would vote for industrial action over late finishes.

'For over a year we have been trying to influence the board and bring in measures to better support staff and reduce late finishes,' the union said.

'Due to the lack of traction from the trust and the very clear mandate from our members, the branch committee voted unanimously to carry out a ballot for industrial action over late finishes.

'Industrial action is always a very last resort and we really appreciate it's an emotive subject for patient facing staff to consider.'

The union believes new measures proposed by the trust to turn around performance will come at the cost of staff welfare, which it says is 'unacceptable'.

Those proposals included putting crews on meal breaks five minutes after they have finished with a patient, which raised the prospect of staff having their breaks away from an EEAST base and therefore without bathroom and kitchen facilities.

But the trust yesterday 'clarified' its proposal, and said crews would start their meal break within five minutes of arriving at a base.

However the plan to remove an end of shift pilot which aims to reduce the amount of late finishes has been criticised.

Fraer Stevenson, the trust's Unison branch secretary, yesterday presented an open letter to directors which she said was signed in protest by more than 1,300 members of staff.

She told the EDP: 'Our patience on this issue is running out. The trust have said this has long been a priority, but data shows late finishes are getting worse not better.'

Figures from EEAST show 2,995 shifts finished more than an hour later than planned in December. The figure rose to 3,639 shifts in January 2016.

The ballot on industrial action will run concurrently with fresh talks between the trust and Unison over the new proposals.

Have you got a health story? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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