AMBULANCE staff have voted to strike on the weekend of the Tour de France, as part of a continuing dispute over training and staffing.

In a vote yesterday, members of Unite, the country's largest union, voted for strike action on July 5 and 6, when about two million people are due to visit North Yorkshire to see the Grand Depart.

The vote came down in favour of Yorkshire Ambulance Service members striking over extended shift patterns, an issue which was first raised about 18 months ago, but health bosses said the timing of the strike showed a "disregard" for patient welfare.

Unite members working at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust voted by 84 per cent to strike between 6am and 11.59pm on Saturday and between 6pm and 10pm on Sunday.

Terry Cunliffe, from Unite, condemned "draconian conditions" introduced in the last 18 months by YAS, which he claimed meant emergency care assistants (ECAs), with only six weeks training would take on more responsibilities, and staff could be refused 45-minute meal breaks during busy times.

He said: "Once again, our members have spoken with a clear voice that concern for patient and staff safety remains absolutely paramount.

"This is a very strong mandate and we urge the trust’s chief executive David Whiting, who recently imposed new draconian conditions without any agreement with the unions, to sit down for urgent and constructive talks. Unite’s door is open for talks under the auspices of the conciliation service, Acas at any time."

David Whiting, chief executive at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: "We are disappointed with the Unite the Union ballot result and the continued threat of industrial action.

"Strike action is certainly not in the best interests of our patients and we are disappointed that Unite continues to put patients at risk. By choosing to take industrial action over the weekend of the Tour de France when Yorkshire will be proud to be showcasing its people, places and warm welcome to a world-wide audience, it reflects the total disregard Unite has for the welfare of patients. Their actions are clearly designed to try and disrupt vital services for local residents, visitors and vulnerable patients who find themselves in an emergency situation."

Mr Whiting said the ambulance service had "robust contingency plans" in place to ensure ambulances are still able to operate throughout the region.