Ambulance workers in East Anglia are to be balloted for possible strike action over what union leaders claim are the “broken promises” of managers.
Unison officials this morning announced they had informed the East of England Ambulance Service of its intentions, in an ongoing dispute over staff working hours and break entitlements.
But the trust says the union’s demands would increase the risk of harm to patients and has urged them to continue talks to resolve the dispute.
Unison is demanding a main 45 minute break during workers’ 12 hour shifts, plus an additional 20 minute break and an assurance that crews will only be asked to attend the most serious emergency cases when heading back to base at the end of their shift.
The union claims that crews often only have one 30 minute break in a shift, while the number of shifts finishing at least an hour later than planned has risen significantly in recent months.
In one case, they say that a crew was forced to work a 20.5 hour shift. They also claim hundreds of staff have left the service in the past year.
Branch secretary Fraer Stevenson said: “After a year of broken promises, our crews are still faced with unacceptable working conditions.
“Frontline staff are caring people, committed to providing excellent patient care, but they need to be cared for by their employer.
“Fifteen-hour shifts with just a half-hour unpaid break are now commonplace. Ambulance staff carry out lifesaving work in their communities and deserve better treatment.
“It’s heart breaking to see front line staff working under such pressure and for the trust’s board to be given repeated evidence of this, but fail to act. We have little choice now after over a year of many meetings and no meaningful action, than to consider industrial action.”
But the trust says it does not have the capacity to meet current levels of patient demand.
It says the current break is split into 30 minutes where crews cannot be disturbed and a further 15 minutes where they can be called upon to answer emergency calls.
It says it has already put forward a “comprehensive suite of proposals” to resolve the issues, which were welcomed by staff.
A spokesman added: “While the Trust is supportive of improving meal break arrangements, removing calls from the disturbable 15 minute part of the current meal break would reduce our capacity to respond to patients and increase the potential for harm.
“This is why the measures put forward by the Trust, including improved meal breaks, aims to balance staff wellbeing and patient safety.
“We are committed to working with UNISON to develop sound and sustainable working practices to ensure staff welfare whilst maintaining excellent patient safety.
“Whilst we are disappointed that UNISON has taken the decision to ballot staff, we would urge the to take up our offer of approaching ACAS to facilitate a mediated and final joint resolution.
“Tackling this issue for the benefit of staff and patients is vital and we must work together to make progress.”
The union says it has also approached ACAS to help resolve the dispute.