Posted: Fri 12th Nov 2021

Union safety concerns surrounding military involvement in Welsh Ambulance Service emergency call outs

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Nov 12th, 2021

The use of armed forces personnel to support the Welsh Ambulance Service (WAST) is “endangering the public”, a trade union has said.

GMB union has launched a formal dispute with WAST, citing “bullying and harassment” from the management over underqualified military help.

The Welsh government submitted a request for additional support under the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) arrangement.

Over 100 armed forces personnel were deployed in October to support ambulance staff, for a second time during the pandemic.

Initially ministers pledged the military support would be for ‘lower acuity, non-emergency’ work.

Prior to deployment, an MoD spokesperson said: “Defence personnel will augment the ambulance service with non-emergency drivers who will not operate under blue light conditions.”

“They will attend lower priority calls to help to free up WAST resources for emergency calls where there is an immediate risk to life, such as cardiac arrests.”

Clinical staff have now raised concerns surrounding the scale of military involvement in emergency call outs.

Trained ambulance crews have been split as untrained military personnel are used to try and plug gaps in the service, according to the GMB union.

Ambulance staff must undertake ‘blue light training’ to be able to drive an ambulance on emergency status, training that is not extended to military personnel who are instead given a two-day familiarisation course.

When members have raised concerns, “management have threatened them with redundancies and registration status.” GMB has said.

GMB union has formally lodged a dispute with the trust and written to the Welsh Government minister to raise its concerns about the extent of the Military involvement.

In a letter to health minister Eluned Morgan, the GMB said it is “extremely concerned to hear that our members in WAST are now being threatened with capability or to be suspended and face disciplinary procedures if they are concerned about working alongside untrained military personnel.”

It goes on to say: “GMB is aware that the Military personnel are not able to drive the Ambulances on emergency status with the use of ‘Blue lights and sirens’ and as they are not trained as paramedics, they are providing affectively, very little assistance to our members who, in emergency situations, are having to not only assess and treat the patient and their family, but keep an eye open for the military personnel working with them, giving them instructions on what is needed to be done rather than being able to rely on a trained medic.”

“GMB believe that we have no alternative other than to enter into dispute with WAST to protect the reputation and registration of GMB members employed within the service. ”

The union says the situation is further driving staff morale down, “with the proportion of trust staff off due to stress and ill health over 11% and rising.” GMB said.

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 15 November.

Nathan Holman, GMB Regional Organiser said: “Let’s be clear, threats to our members will not be tolerated.

“Our member’s 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 into 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 member’s jobs that are at risk, but the users of the service too.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson, said: “Operational issues are decisions for the trust to take and we are aware the trust is working with staff and staff representatives to listen to concerns and resolve these in partnership at an organisational level.”

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