Volunteer car drivers withdraw service
Emma Knights Volunteer car drivers who provide a lifeline for patients needing transport to and from hospitals are withdrawing their services today and tomorrow because of a dispute about mileage allowance.
Volunteer car drivers who provide a lifeline for patients needing transport to and from hospitals are withdrawing their services today and tomorrow because of a dispute about mileage allowance.
But the ambulance service has said that contingency plans have been put in place to make sure patients are not affected during the two days.
About 400 people volunteer for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust's ambulance car service (ACS).
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Using their own cars, they take outpatients to and from non-emergency appointments, and they also give lifts home to patients who have been discharged from hospital.
But the drivers' committee has said that for the next two days about 70pc of the drivers are refusing to work because they believe the current allowance - which the ambulance service increased from 36p to 36.5p per mile yesterday - is unfair compared to the rise in fuel costs.
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The committee described the 0.5p rise as an “insult.”
It also voiced concerns about the ambulance service's plans to reorganise the drivers' committee because it said the existing group worked extremely well.
A member of the current Committee of Voluntary Car Drivers, who did not want to be named, said: “All of the drivers regret very, very much that we are being forced to take this action because it is going to affect the patients. But we have come to a point where we have got to do something like this to make the management listen to us.
“Volunteer drivers in other areas of the country are being paid 40p a mile or more and we are having to battle like mad to even get a meeting to talk about our mileage allowance. I personally would like to see our mileage allowance rise to 40p a mile.”
He said that in November last year the drivers' mileage allowance was increased from 35p to 36p and that the previous increase was from 34p to 35p in August 2006.
“A lot of drivers are leaving because they cannot afford the fuel costs. If something is not done there won't be many drivers left,” he said.
A spokesman for the ambulance service said: “Since November last year we have passed on a 4.3pc increase in mileage rate commensurate with fuel prices.
“We believe it is a fair and affordable rate to cover the volunteers' expenses for the valuable work they undertake.
“There is no nationally agreed rate, and our payment is about mid-range among English ambulance services.
“We greatly value the work our volunteers undertake, and believe we have made a fair and affordable offer.”
He said that today and tomorrow the ambulance service hoped to cover the majority of its contracted journeys and that patients should assume that any transport booked will arrive as planned. If patients have any concerns they should call the transport office at their hospital.
He added that the proposed change in the drivers' committee is a result of the merger of three ambulance services into one six-county trust in July 2006.
He said the new ambulance service had initiated a democratic election process to nominate driver representatives with the aim of having a trust-wide committee with a representative from each hospital site.
He said the arrangements were being made to incorporate Essex rather than change the existing arrangements for representatives in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.