AMBULANCE workers have voted to strike during the visit of the Tour de France Grand Depart to Yorkshire - set to be one of the service's busiest weekends of the year.

Members of Unite within Yorkshire Ambulance Service have voted to take industrial action on Saturday, July 5 and Sunday, July 6 as part of a long-running dispute over patient and staff safety issues.

Unite said today (Friday 27 June) it had received ‘a very strong mandate’ to continue the fight to ensure patient care was paramount and that already over-stretched ambulance staff did not become exhausted in carrying out vital duties.

This means that 383 Unite members working at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who voted by 84 per cent to walk out, will be on strike between 6am and midnight on Saturday, July 5 and from 6pm until 10pm on Sunday, July 6.

Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “This is a strong mandate and we urge the trust’s chief executive David Whiting, who recently imposed new draconian conditions without any agreement with the unions, to sit down for urgent and constructive talks.”

Mr Whiting, chief executive at the trust, said: “There is no mandate for strike action with less than 50 per cent turnout from Unite members; only 177 people participated in the vote from our total workforce of more than 4,600 staff.

“By choosing to take industrial action over Tour de France weekend, it reflects the total disregard Unite has for the welfare of patients.

“Their actions are clearly designed to disrupt vital services for local residents, visitors and vulnerable patients who find themselves in an emergency situation.”

But Mr Cunliffe denied the Tour de France was targeted specifically.

“Obviously we were aware it would have an impact but that weekend just fits - with the ballot rules we have to call the action within a short time scale.

“I don’t think it will have a major impact because there have been special arrangements made by YAS to cover that weekend.”

Mr Whiting added: “We would like to reassure the public that we have robust contingency plans in place to ensure we continue to provide responsive, effective and safe services.”

The strike also follows fears for patient safety raised after a YAS decision to use emergency care assistants (ECAs) – who have just eight weeks’ training – to respond to emergency calls.

Unite has called for ECAs to receive more training to deal with the more complex tasks they are now being asked to carry out.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service is believed to be the first in the country to adopt the money-saving measure of using ECAs to attend call-outs.

But YAS said they would just be used to transport patients who do not require monitoring or treatment, and act as a first responder on scene.