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Unison ballots East of England Ambulance Service staff over overrunning shifts

Unison is balloting East of England Ambulance Service staff over possible strike action in protest at excessive working hours.

Unison has been in negotiations for six weeks with the trust. It said that in December 2015, 2,995 shifts at the service finished over an hour later than planned, and in January 2016 this rose to 3,639 shifts.

The union said this was leading to crews having to work 13-18 hour shifts with a 30-minute lunch break, instead of the 12-hour shift with a 45-minute lunchbreak they were entitled to.

Fraer Stevenson, branch secretary at Unison, 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’re human beings too and they need to be cared for by their employer.”

She said the pressure of longer working hours meant many ambulance staff were already leaving their jobs or saying they wanted to do so.

Unison is asking for a 45-minute meal break, a 20-minute additional break later in the shift, and for crews to be able to return to base at the end of their shift and only be asked to attend the highest category of calls while en route.

Unison, along with fellow unions GMB and Unite, announced recently that it is considering mass strikes of ambulance workers over pay freezes and grading.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman said: “The trust is committed to working with Unison to develop sound and sustainable working practices to ensure staff welfare whilst maintaining excellent patient safety.

“Both sides have been working incredibly hard to tackle this issue for the benefit of staff and patients. Whilst we are disappointed that Unison has taken the decision to ballot staff, we would urge Unison 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.”

It emerged last year that East of England Ambulance Service downgraded nearly 10,000 999 calls without authorisation.

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