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Ambulance crews to strike after private contract row

PUBLISHED: 14:06 13 August 2010

The London Ambulance Service logo

The London Ambulance Service logo

2007 Getty Images

Ambulance staff have voted to strike after a private company was awarded a contract to transport vulnerable patients to hospitals in Bromley, Bexley and Woolwich.

Some 78 ambulance staff based in Shire Lane, Biggin Hill, and sites in Barnehurst and Greenwich are set to be transferred to private company Savoy Ventures Ltd in Stone Castle Drive, Greenhithe from September 1.

But staff fear patients will be put at risk as “untrained” staff will be put in charge of transporting needy patients including babies in incubators, diabetic and epileptic patients and the elderly.

Following the vote last Wednesday, the GMB union will conduct a postal ballot, which should be completed by August 24. If members are in favour industrial action could take place on August 31.

One London Ambulance Service (LAS) insider, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, said: “My main worry is that the patients are not going to receive the level of care they deserve. If this happens there will really be some point in the future that someone gets ill and ends up dying on the back of an ambulance.

“We all come to work because we have to earn money, all people do. But London Ambulance staff still have morals and we want patients moved in a proper way with the proper equipment available if something goes wrong.

“Ninety five per cent of our job is TLC, you pick Edith up and help her into the vehicle and the rest of it is sitting in the back of the ambulance with them talking about EastEnders or the war or just putting them at ease.

“The quality of the service will disappear.”

The ambulance service lost the contract after it was put out to tender by the South London Healthcare NHS Trust in March.

Savoy is said to have bid £2.5million to run the contract serving Princess Royal University Hospital, Farnborough, Beckenham and Orpington hospitals, Queen Mary’s in Sidcup and Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich.

The LAS and other companies pitched a budget of around £3.5million to run the contract.

Ambulances will be replaced by 40 white vans with less equipment than that carried in ambulances, it is claimed.

Former director of midwifery at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, Mary Broadhurst MBE said she was “shocked” at the decision to privatise patient transport services.

She said: “Anyone who needs that service is not able to get in or out of a car and would need someone fully trained to know how to lift them safely.

“People who have trained with the Ambulance Service have a greater understanding. It worries me that they will be replaced. You may get people who care but it depends on the person and depends on the management. I think it is horrendous.”

Two Savoy vehicles are already in use in Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich acting as ‘support’ for the LAS and the company already runs the transport services at University Hospital, Lewisham, and Kings College in Denmark Hill.

Under Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, LAS staff will be transferred to Greenhithe, meaning they will lose their outer London weighting allowance worth up to £4,100.

Rob Macey, GMB Regional Officer, said: “GMB are calling for heads to roll at South London Healthcare NHS Trust for this.”

A spokesperson for the South London Healthcare NHS Trust said: “The Trust needed to secure a unified and consistent service from six existing contrasting contracts, for non-urgent patient transport, which offered the best service and the best value for taxpayers’ money.

“The new service will include a centralised one-stop appointment and booking service to enhance patient service.

“The Trust has not yet finalised a contract with the new supplier. Our preferred supplier, Savoy, also provides patient transport services to hospitals at our neighbour trusts in South London. We have received representations from the GMB union and we are currently looking into some of the issues it has raised.”

The spokesperson insisted that Savoy staff will be trained in health and safety and first aid, adding: “Safety is absolutely paramount.”

The Times approached Savoy Ventures Ltd for comment but it was refused. A letter from the company to the South London Healthcare NHS Trust said they had cooperated fully with LAS over the transfer of their staff.

It added: “To date, we have participated in meetings with both Unison and the GMB even though, strictly speaking, the obligation to inform and consult with appropriate representatives rests with LAS.”

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