Yorkshire ambulance staff in strike threat

Jean Wormwell MBE.
Jean Wormwell MBE.

A UNION is threatening strike action after an NHS trust announced it would no longer recognise it due to a “disappointing” working relationship.

Unite the Union plans to hold a ballot over the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust’s decision to derecognise the union in its capacity as a collective bargainer on behalf of the union’s members.

While the trust will still work in partnership with UNISON, Unite the Union can only represent members on individual matters.

Unite announced on Monday February 11 it had begun to ballot its 450 paramedics and other ambulance staff members at the trust for strike action or industrial action, and the result could be known by the end of February.

Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “I can confirm that Unite has begun the legal process to hold an industrial action ballot over the trust’s unilateral decision to derecognise Unite.

“The management is trying to silence Unite after it raised legitimate concerns over patient safety that could flow from the shake-up of ambulance services in the next five years.

“The trust’s behaviour is mind-boggling given last week’s Francis report which placed great emphasis on whistleblowing and ‘a duty of candour’.

“Whatever the outcome of the ballot, our members will always put patient safety first.”

David Whiting, chief executive of Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “We carefully reflected upon this difficult matter before advising Unite the Union of our decision to derecognise them.

“Unfortunately the working relationship with Unite the Union remains disappointing and we have not received a constructive contribution to the difficult decisions that the Trust has been required to make for the future, particularly as we seek to maintain high-quality care for patients against the realities of the tough economic climate.

“I would like to reassure members of the public that all our decisions are focused on continuing to deliver a high quality and responsive service to patients and this will always remain our top priority.”

However a local health campaigner has voiced concerns over the repercussions of a strike by ambulance staff.

Jean Wormwell, MBE, secretary of Pensioners’ Action Group East Riding (PAGER), said: “The possibility of strike action is disconcerting as we rely on the ambulances a lot and I would feel very sorry if that caused disruptions to services.

“I think it is essential that they get together and work together.

“The unions are very essential and do a lot of work to support the employees.

“I think it is quite worrying when the union and the employer can get together and try and solve the problem. I think it is a step backwards.

“Unions do an awful lot of good work but sometimes they take things too far, but over the years they have done a great deal of good work and I think that ambulance workers do a lot for the health service.”

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust covers almost 6,000 square miles of varied terrain and provides 24-hour emergency and healthcare services to a population of more than £5million people.

The organisation receives an average of 2,050 emergency and urgent calls per day and employs over 4,300 staff.