A TRADE union has launched a formal dispute with the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust (WAST), claiming staff have been subject to “bullying and harassment” from management after raising concerns over “unqualified” military help.
Earlier this year Welsh Government pledged military support for “lower acuity, non-emergency” work – but clinical staff have raised concerns about the scale of military involvement in emergency call outs.
The union has said ambulance staff must undertake ‘blue light training’ to be able to drive an ambulance on emergency status – but that this same training has not been extended to military personnel drafted in to help, who were instead given a two-day familiarisation course.
When members have raised concerns, management has allegedly threatened them with redundancies and registration status.
The union has said many paramedics already believe that their status is under threat, and that non-blue light trained personnel are “unequipped” for the job, and has as a result formally lodged a dispute with WAST and written to the Welsh Government to raise its concerns.
The dispute comes as GMB members are due to vote on the latest pay deal to come from the Welsh Government, with the ballot due to open on Monday, November 15.
GMB regional organiser, Nathan Holman, said: “Let’s be clear, threats to our members will not be tolerated.
“Our members mental health and their safety is our number one priority, and we will not accept the bullying and cajoling from the management at WAST.
“We do not object to the military assisting in low acuity, non-emergency calls, but we cannot turn a blind eye, unqualified personnel assisting in emergency situations.
“You wouldn’t bring a postman in to work with a GP or a midwife, so why would you accept an unqualified individual working alongside a paramedic.
“You cannot use underqualified staff to plug the holes in the service.
“At the end of the day it’s not just our members jobs that are at risk, but the users of the service too.”
The trust says it is looking into the claims of the trade union, adding they have not seen “evidence of systemic issues”.
Jason Killens, chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We are aware of concerns being expressed by trade union colleagues on behalf of their members about working with the military, and these are currently being looked at.
“Regular dialogue is underway to listen and understand more about these concerns, with a further meeting scheduled for early next week. We remain committed to working together to understand what we can do to address matters and reduce the anxiety that some of our people are feeling.
“While we have asked for examples of staff feeling pressurised to work with military colleagues, we have not seen evidence of a systemic issue and we have seen examples of where staff are working positively with military colleagues.
“We will continue to work with Trade Union colleagues on a national basis and individuals locally to understand and address their concerns and to ensure we do everything possible to avoid any potential for a disciplinary action.
“We understand that some colleagues are concerned about the appropriateness of military support but – given high levels of absence, greater demand than ever before and extended delays at hospitals – the Board has taken a decision that it is not prepared to stand by and see a significant number of patients experience distressingly long waits in the community because of a lack of available resources.
“In the month since the latest military deployment, and while delays at hospitals have remained challenging, we have had the capacity to respond to more patients and in a more timely way.
“This is the result of being able to make more vehicles and crews available because of the support we are receiving from military colleagues.”