Ambulance staff may be balloted on whether totake industrial action in protest at the employment of lower skilled staff.
Unison, which has more than 650 ambulance members Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire, is opposed to the Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS) employing emergency care assistants, who are trained in basic first aid but whose main role is to help paramedics.
GWAS employs more than 230 emergency care assistants, who are the lowest paid of its clinical staff, and now aims to staff all ambulances with a paramedic and an emergency care assistant.
But Unison argues the assistant role is not fit for purpose as the assistant does not have the skills to treat patients autonomously.
In September it was reported that GWAS had crewed five ambulances in Wiltshire with emergency care assistants only, a situation one paramedic described as “Russian roulette for patients”.
Unison wants GWAS to employ either paramedics or technicians, who have a higher range of skills, instead of assistants.
Ian Whittern, chairman of the GWAS Unison branch, said only four out of 14 ambulance services in the UK were employing emergency care assistants.
He said: “We are working towards a point where we can ballot our members for industrial action. There is a national direction that the emergency care assistant role is not fit for purpose. There are 10 other ambulance trusts not employing emergency care assistants and we do not feel it is right to allow a postcode lottery in other ambulance trusts.”
Mr Whittern said a ballot could be held by May but in the meantime Unison would urge the public to write to councillors complaining that employing emergency care assistants had led to a “second-rate service”.
David Whiting, chief executive of GWAS, said news of a ballot by Unison was disappointing. He said currently there were paramedics on 80 per cent of the trust’s ambulances and of its workforce 20 per cent were emergency care assistants.
Ambulance response times to life-threatening calls in west Wiltshire are almost at the national target level, but other areas of the county do not fare as well.
Figures produced by Great Western Ambulance Service show that since last April the service achieved a 74.3 per cent response rate in sending an ambulance to life-threatening calls within eight minutes in west Wiltshire, compared to the national target of 75 per cent.
GWAS exceeds the national target in large towns and cities. Its best performance has been in Swindon where it achieved a response of 89.7 per cent.
The over-performance in urban areas means that GWAS is able to get close to or meet the 75 per cent target overall.
Mr Whiting said it was difficult to achieve the 75 per cent target in rural areas, but he said he wanted to narrow the gap.
He said: “We have to get a good level of response across our patch but performance in cities will always be better.”
From Swindon Advertiser