YORKSHIRE’S ambulance chief has attacked strikes planned by hundreds of workers in a row over shifts as “reckless”.
Members of the Unite union walked out early today for 24 hours at midnight, and will again strike for four hours from 3pm on Monday, amid claims some paramedics could work for 10 hours without a meal break under new shift patterns.
The union said this would impact on patient safety and is calling for a 30-minute meal break every six hours.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service chiefs said the industrial action will impact on services, involving around eight per cent of its workforce which totals 4,600. Chief executive David Whiting accused Unite of “neglecting” patient care.
He said: “I would like to reiterate that I remain deeply concerned over this type of action, which I know is of concern to all of our A&E staff, who are very committed to patient care, and will place many of them in a very difficult situation.
“We continue to refute the misleading and factually incorrect claims being made by Unite around patient safety.
“Our focus is on safeguarding patient care and we are committed to minimising the level of disruption to our services.
“Industrial action in this form is certainly not in the best interests of patients, and it is deeply concerning for a trade union representing ambulance service workers to strike without making any concessions to patient safety.”
Mr Whiting added: “Throughout the 24-hour period of the strike we will be taking steps to maintain operational cover to sustain effective and safe services for patients calling upon us for emergency medical assistance.
“We will continue to make every effort to get to patients as quickly as possible whilst maintaining high standards of patient care.
“Our contingency plans are focused on providing a safe, responsive and high-quality emergency service to patients and this will always remain our top priority.”
Unite has been in a long-running battle with ambulance service managers over concerns it says it has relating to patient safety which led to two days of strike action last year.
Unite officer Terry Cunliffe said: “Our members, who are doing their best for the Yorkshire public in very difficult circumstances, have been under sustained attack by the trust’s hard-line management for more than a year.
“The latest erosion in their employment conditions is the demand to work elongated shifts which could mean them working more than 10 hours on the trot before managers deign to give them a meal break.
“This could affect their ability to do their jobs – helping people in distress.
“I think the people of Yorkshire will find that this is completely unacceptable.”
The ambulance service, which from next week will not recognise Unite for collective bargaining, receives an average of 2,100 emergency calls a day.
The changes to staff rotas and rest breaks have been agreed with another union, Unison.
Ambulance bosses are urging people across the region to use services appropriately and only dial 999 in an emergency when it is obvious a sick or injured casualty has a life-threatening or serious illness or injury.
Anyone with less serious problems should dial the freephone 111 urgent care service or go to a walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.