Pay dispute leads to industrial action by paramedics

Members of the NEAS HART team taking part in a joint operation in Morpeth a few years ago.
Members of the NEAS HART team taking part in a joint operation in Morpeth a few years ago.

Paramedics working for the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) NHS Trust in the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) are currently undertaking industrial action in a dispute over pay.

The HART team is a group of paramedics who are trained to go into the ‘hot zone’ of incidents. Since 2010, UK ambulance service HART teams have worked alongside the other emergency services at the epicentre of serious accidents or threats to public health. By being in the ‘hot zone’ the HART team can save more lives during the early stages of a major incident.

The NEAS HART unit covers from the Scottish border to North Yorkshire and Cumbrian borders and is based in South Tyneside. They are a team of paramedics who, in addition to responding to 999 calls, provide specialist pre-hospital response for the NHS. They are the initial NHS response to mass casualty, infectious diseases (eg, Ebola) CBRN, firearms or lethal weapons incidents, structural collapse, and water-related incidents.

Helen Coomer, regional organiser for Unison, said: “These highly-trained and dedicated members of staff are often working in difficult and dangerous situations treating and saving the lives of the general public.

“Since January, the HART team have been trying to get the Trust to pay them the rate for the job as determined by a job evaluation scheme. NEAS Trust has refused to pay them in accordance with their grade. The Trust is belittling the contribution made by this hard-working and dedicated group of staff.

“Unison has tried to negotiate a resolution with the Trust for more than nine months. As a result of the Trust’s intransigence, members of the HART team have taken the difficult decision that industrial action is the only option left. The Trust is urged to enter into meaningful negotiations with our members and give them their rightful pay.”

The action being taken by the HART paramedics currently is short of a strike, mainly comprising an overtime ban. This started on Tuesday, October 20, and is ongoing.

A spokesman for North East Ambulance Service said: “We received a letter from Unison in October informing us of the outcome of a ballot for industrial action among the 30 paramedics who work in our Hazardous Area Response Team (HART). This action involves not working overtime shifts, not being deployed to standby duties and not participating in unofficial relief cover.

“We have continued to meet with Unison and these talks are currently ongoing. We hope that we will be able to reach an agreement soon.

“HART paramedics are trained to enter hazardous areas which previously only the fire service or police would approach. HART paramedics in NEAS earn the same as their counterparts in almost every other ambulance service across the UK. However, there is no national job profile for their role, although additional skills and training are identified each year for HART staff across the country.”