UNION leaders are calling for an independent inquiry into a long running ambulance dispute as the county faces two paramedic strikes in the coming week.

Officials from Unite say a probe is needed so the people of Yorkshire can judge for themselves what impact £46 million cuts will have on patient safety in the next five years.

The union wants the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to look into the dispute over cuts. Strikes are planned for this Friday and Monday, between 3pm and 8pm, over new shift patterns that could see paramedics working ten-hour shifts without a meal break.

The strikes come after the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) announced it would no longer recognise Unite for negotiation on behalf of its members.

Unite regional officer Terry Cunliffe said: “The latest strikes over elongated shift patterns follow the refusal of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust to meet Unite to resolve the dispute.

“I would emphasise that the trust’s executive did not enter face-to-face negotiations to resolve the dispute at Acas-brokered talks which led to strike action taking place on February 1 and 3.

“We would welcome an independent inquiry by the CQC to determine whether it is Unite or the trust’s executives who are misleading the public about the facts in this dispute, including the reason for Unite’s derecognition; patient safety; and whether the trust’s plan is focused on patient care or is just a five-year £46 million cost-cutting exercise.

“We understand that there will be public concern about this action and would want to assure them that this is a last resort as a result of the trust’s executives refusal to negotiate with Unite.”

Unite members held a 24-hour strike on Saturday, February 1, followed by a four-hour strike on Monday, February 3. They are fighting for protected 30-minute meal breaks after six hours working.

YAS said it was “disappointed with the latest announcement from Unite to hold further strikes and its persistence in issuing false claims through the media”.

The trust said the forthcoming strikes would take place without any concessions from Unite for the most seriously ill and injured patients. It said the latest talks with ACAS on January 30 were instigated by the trust, and claimed YAS made an offer of further talks with Unite which was rejected by Mr Cunliffe.

Trust chief executive David Whiting said: “We continue to refute the misleading and potentially defamatory claims being made by Unite on a number of matters. Mr Cunliffe was invited to a meeting on December 3 to discuss the proposals and he declined to attend.

"He has been sent copies of our proposals on several occasions, which clearly state: ‘The new agreed rest break window for a ten-hour shift starts at three-and-a-half hours and ends at seven hours, and for a 12-hour shift starts at four hours and ends at eight hours. Under the new model the rest break will be protected and held at an individual’s base station.’

“We are fully assured that we have followed all due process, including adherence to CQC standards, and undertaken extensive consultation with staff and unions on the changes we are making.”