AMBULANCE workers in Yorkshire are to stage four more strikes this month as a row over shift patterns continues.

The Unite union said new working practices at Yorkshire Ambulance Service could leave staff on duty for ten hours without a meal break and that this will have implications for patient and staff safety. The dispute has been running for more than a year.

The strikes will be held this Friday, next Monday and on March 29 between 3pm and 8pm, with a five-hour strike between 3am and 8am on March 31. The union has 375 members at YAS and has called for the Care Quality Commission to hold an independent inquiry.

"Our members don't take strike action lightly - it has been a last resort - but they feel there are important issues at stake here involving patient and staff safety," said Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe, who said the union wanted YAS chief executive David Whiting and other senior managers to enter "meaningful talks".

Unite has said staff should have a protected 30-minute meal break after six hours' work and has also raised fears about private ambulance firms being used to "plug the gaps" in NHS 999 responses.

A YAS statement said: "Our focus will continue to be on safeguarding patient care and we are committed to minimising the level of disruption to our services.

"Tjroughout the periods of industrial action, we will be taking steps to maintain operational cover to sustain effective and safe services for patients calling upon us for emergency medical assistance. We will continue to make every effort to get to patients as quickly as possible, while maintaining high standards of patient care."