Welsh Lives at Risk

Lives could be at risk across parts of Wales from tomorrow as a new row erupts within the crisis-hit ambulance service, union leaders warned last night. The latest emergency to strike the ailing Wales Ambulance Services NHS Trust could see certain parts of Wales could without 999 cover as paramedics hold their bosses to ransom over a pay dispute. Trust chiefs were due to enforce a new ambulance deployment system in South East Wales from tomorrow. The plan would have seen extra rapid response vehicles tackling emergency calls in Monmouthshire, the Vale of Glamorgan and north Gwent.

The vehicles were due to start operating between 7am through to 3am the next morning, seven days a week, in a bid to ease cover for busier 999 areas like Cardiff and Newport.

But the Trust was forced to scrap the plan at the eleventh hour after paramedics refused to staff the changes following an ongoing row over a £13m back-pay dispute.

The move came just 24 hours after the Trust’s operations boss David Lyden said he would not back down.

Trust chiefs are now finalising last-minute contingency plans which could see air ambulances based in Swansea and Welshpool brought into use.

Wales on Sunday exclusively revealed last month how paramedics had threatened to bring the ambulance service to its knees unless they were paid the £13m back-pay. And last night, they did just that.

The Trust’s 2,500 staff are furious they have still not received the money – ranging from £1,000 to £7,000 per person – promised to them 21 months ago as part of a Government shake up of NHS pay scales.

The pay changes have already been fully funded by the National Assembly but the Trust has yet to hand bonuses onto staff.

Although the Trust says every effort will be made to pay up in September, union leaders are not convinced.

Last night, Dr Anton van Dellen, interim chief executive of the Trust, said he was “bitterly disappointed” his redeployment plan had been scrapped.

But Unison says its members would not be bullied into staffing the changes.

Asked if lives were at risk following the new stand-off, Unison spokesman Tony Chatfield said: “There is that risk. I’m shocked the Trust has decided not to start this plan.

“This is a Trust decision as our members asked for a postponement due to the concerns we have.

“As a result, patients in some areas will now receive treatment from paramedic cars and not ambulances. Although this is sufficient, these cars are unable to take patients to hospital.”

But Trust chiefs yesterday blamed paramedics for the stand-off.

Dr van Dellen said: “We thought our staff were on board for the changes which would support them in their work to provide a consistently high standard of care to patients.

“We will continue to talk to them and their union representatives to see if we can reach an agreement soon.”

And, this weekend, the Trust was facing the possibility of industrial action.

One paramedic, who did not want to be named, said: “I and my colleagues have had just about as much as we can take at the moment and we strongly believe it is time for action.

“I would like my branch officials to arrange a branch meeting to talk about a mandate for industrial action.”

An Assembly spokesman said it was an internal matter for the Trust but it “acknowledges that performance levels in South East Wales are below the Welsh average and change is clearly needed to improve performance”.