The three Trade Unions have recently written to the Trust to register a dispute. This is something that we do not want to do but we feel that we have not been left any choice. The Trust signed up to a Partnership Agreement with the unions and up until recently, we have maintained excellent working relations. Unfortunately, that has recently broken down.
Throughout this Pandemic, we have signed up to multiple practices at the request of the Trust. This has included using Private Providers to respond to 999 calls on blue lights, using the Military / Fire Brigade to assist with the mounting activity and the introduction of PTS staff working on emergency ambulances on a temporary basis.
Prior to the Pandemic we worked with the management to “Build Better Rotas”. NWAS tasked a company called ORH to analyse the activity and working patterns right across the Trust and they came back with a number of recommendations. NWAS assured us that introducing changes to the rotas would enable them to respond better to emergency calls and give staff the opportunity to get their breaks within a reasonable time and to get an on-time finish. Union reps and staff sat down and cooperated, and changes were made to the rotas in line with the recommendations. To date, nothing has changed, and we continue to have the same problems and they are getting worse.
Very recently, the Trust introduced a ‘new’ procedure in EOC that is called EOC0001. This procedure requires dispatchers to “allocate the closest Emergency Ambulance, regardless of location, up to 40 minutes away” for Cat 2 Incidents. This has caused a lot of upset for both Dispatchers, EA crews and clinicians giving advice to patients.
Dispatchers have complained to us saying that they can no longer manage their resources and they are being forced to allocate to Cat 2 calls up to 40 minutes away when there are clearly more serious Cat 2 calls near to where the EA is. EA crews are complaining to us as they are having to travel on blues to calls for over 30 minutes at a time, only to be stood down when they are near scene to be reallocated to an incident that is close to where they were before. They are telling us that they are spending most of their shifts travelling from Point A to B only to be returned to Point A and never actually reaching a patient. Those that do reach the patients are getting abuse from the patient or their families due to the length of time they are waiting. This is exacerbated by the fact the crew are in an area that they are not familiar with, so they do not know what services are available to them locally.
This procedure was written last year but only introduced this year without any consultation with the trade unions. We have repeatedly highlighted our concerns to the management, but it has fallen on deaf ears. As indicated earlier, ambulances are travelling a lot longer distances but are seeing far fewer patients. Operational and EOC staff have highlighted the effect that this is happening on staff morale and patient safety and dispatchers have described seeing incidents waiting for a resource on the screen at the beginning of their shift and it is still there when they are finishing their shifts.
In addition to this, we have been raising concerns for a number of months now about the Trusts decision to introduce Restrictive Intervention Training on the Mandatory Training. This training, put very simply, shows the staff member how to restrain a patient ‘safely’ if they require clinical intervention if they do not have capacity, for example. The training is so physical that it requires the use of safety mats on the floor. Naturally, the mats will not be available if and when the techniques are applied.
We have serious concerns about this as we believe that it puts the staff member at risk of an injury while it is being undertaken and also increases the likelihood of a complaint from members of the public who witness a patient being restrained. There is no doubt that somebody would video the incident and we are concerned that this may be used to support a potential complaint, especially given the recent publicity around the George Floyd incident. We have already had members injured while carrying out the training in a controlled environment which demonstrates that our concerns are justified.
We do not feel that it is the job of any ambulance clinician to restrain any uncooperative patient, we are not the police and there can be no doubt that if and when the technique is used, there will be an element of skill decay that may result in mistakes being made. We asked the Trust to put this training on hold, but they have refused to do so. We even wrote to the CEO in an attempt to resolve this, but the situation remains unchanged.
To summarise, all three trade unions have been having discussions with the management to try to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. The partnership agreement requires that we all sit down together to work out resolutions to problems, both the unions and NWAS signed up to this. At every stage, the NWAS management have refused to take our concerns seriously and have refused to change their position.
This has left us no choice but to go into dispute. We have reluctantly written to NWAS to inform them that we intend to carry out an indicative ballot of our members. If we do not manage to reach an agreeable way forward, we will be sending you an Indicative Ballot paper soon.
What is an indicative Ballot?
This is not a formal ballot, and no action will be taken on the back of the result. It is to get the views of you, our members on the issues described in this message and to ask you whether you would be willing to do something about it to encourage the employer to change their position.
Action Short of Strike Action
This could take the form of working to rule. Consideration could be given to things like having an overtime ban or going back to base before clearing off an incident.
This could be a complete or partial withdrawal of services.
We do not want to be in dispute. No decisions have been made and we intend to do everything that we can to avoid it escalating. We are continuing to meet with the management throughout regarding this issue, but we have informed the Trust that we will not support the Service Delivery Model Review continuing while we are in dispute.
We have sent out an Indicative Ballot Survey to all members affected by this by email. If you have not received one, it means that we do not have an email address for you so please update your records with us. Please contact your local rep who will provide you with the link. We have not put the link here as we only want the affected staff to take part.