YORKSHIRE ambulance workers are being balloted for renewed strike action, amid claims that workers with only six weeks training could be first to respond to an emergency call.

The union Unite is organising the ballot for 378 members who work for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service in its long running dispute over new shift patterns.

It claimed yesterday that the ambulance service's management had unilaterally imposed new working conditions meaning emergency care assistants (ECAs) with only six weeks training would taking on more responsibilities, such as being the first to respond to a ‘red’ emergency call.

"Paramedics will have completed a two-year degree course and Unite has repeatedly called for ECAs to receive more training to deal with the more complex tasks they are now being asked to carry out," said a spokesman.

He also complained that a new meal break system meant workers on shifts of up to 12 hours would be allowed a 45 minute break to be taken sometime between the fourth and seventh hour. He claimed it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously injured or killed as a result of staff exhaustion.

But Trust chief executive David Whiting said patients’ needs were at the heart of everything it did and its 'absolute focus' was to ensure it continued to deliver a safe, responsive and high quality service.

He said: “Developments to the Emergency Care Assistant role formed part of a wider package which was discussed with Unison earlier this week, and although they felt unable to agree to the changes as a whole, they did indicate that they were satisfied with this element of the proposal.

He said ECAs would be used more flexibly to transport patients who did not require monitoring or treatment, but could also perform a valuable role as a first responder on scene with a defibrillator, much like its volunteer community first responders. However, there would be very few occasions where they would be required to fulfil this additional element of their role.

“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," he added.