PARAMEDICS could go on strike following a fall out over working conditions.

Unison, which represents ambulance crews in Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, is balloting its members on industrial action amid concerns about changes being implemented by Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

The union said a preliminary survey found support for strike action and that 97 per cent of members said they did not have confidence in the changes.

UNISON steward and paramedic clinical team leader from Avon, Chris Hewett, said: "One of the most important aspects of this dispute is the way that managers have failed to respond to ambulance crews raising the alarm over safety and welfare issues that affect our patients and colleagues. "Ninety-seven per cent per cent of our members support our position, so it is extremely disappointing that managers have only arranged to meet us once. However they did find time to schedule 20 meetings intended to terminate the employment of frontline staff.

"With so much at stake, we have no choice but to ballot our members in order to focus the attention of the executive directors on these important concerns."

Crews are angry at plans to introduce skeleton staffing at non-peak times, affecting shift patterns and times. Working mothers are understood to have had long-standing arrangements changed at short notice and pay cuts are widely feared.

Unison regional organiser Simon Newell said: "One young mother who is currently on maternity leave is now expected to be able to work on every day of the week over a five-week rota when she currently only has childcare provision for the two fixed days per week she is currently contracted to work.

"This is despite the trust saying it operates family friendly employment practices."

Trust chief executive David Whiting defended the changes.

"Many staff have worked hard with us to find ways of making these adjustments and have made them," he said. "We have already seen benefits from these changes and I would like to personally recognise efforts of our staff.

"The changes we are making are simply about ensuring we have the right number of staff and vehicles available when patients ring 999. These changes will benefit patients by saving more lives and benefit our staff by sharing workload and creating job security.

"These changes are based on evidence and all information has been shared with staff and unions. We have not made unilateral decisions, we have spent the last six months consulting with staff and meeting with union representatives on a regular basis. We believe that the majority of staff understand the need for these changes."

He said some people’s circumstances had been accommodated.

Mr Whiting added: "However, it is crucial that we are available when patients call us.

"We will never stop engaging with our staff and stakeholders. We have initiated the current talks with trade union representatives with support from ACAS to try to resolve outstanding concerns."