YORKSHIRE ambulance staff are being balloted for strike action in the long-running dispute over patient and staff safety issues.

The union, Unite, said the new ballot of 378 members is being held to renew the mandate for strike action because management at the Yorkshire Ambulance NHS Trust were refusing to negotiate.

Unite said new working conditions will mean emergency care assistants (ECAs), who have only six weeks training, taking on more responsibilities, such as being the first to respond to a red emergency call.

Unite has repeatedly called for ECAs to receive more training.

The new meal break system means that those on a shift up to 12 hours will be allowed a 45 minute break to be taken sometime between the fourth and seventh hour of the shift.

The crux of the dispute, according to Unite, is the introduction of elongated shift patterns. The union has said that it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed as a result of staff exhaustion.

David Whiting, chief executive at YAS said: “ECAs are operating well within their capability following their training and this development is also consistent with how other ambulance services operate across the country. We will be using our ECAs more flexibly to transport patients who do not require monitoring or treatment. They can also perform a valuable role as a first responder on scene with a defibrillator, much like our volunteer community first responders.

“It is disappointing that Unison has been unable to fully support us on this development, but we are committed to finding ways in which we can make things better for both our patients and our workforce and we will continue to work with our staff to do this.”