THE prospect of disruption to ambulance services in the region has moved a step closer after a vote by crews.

Members of the Unison trade union who work for the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust have voted in favour of taking industrial action.

The union is objecting to plans by the NEAS to bring in major organisational changes to the ambulance trusts accident and emergency service later this year.

As part of these changes the NEAS want to create a new urgent-care category of ambulance to attend non-emergency calls where it is known that paramedic skills will not be needed.

This will allow double-crew paramedic ambulances to be concentrated on more serious emergency calls.

As a result of the changes some centres will lose 999 ambulances but gain extra urgent-care ambulances.

But Unison fears that the proposed changes will have a negative effect on ambulance crews, reducing earnings, and opportunities for promotion.

Joel Byers, Unison branch secretary for the NEAS, said: "The review has been rejected by members and, in an indicative ballot, the majority said they would be prepared to take industrial action over the issues."

He complained that staff were already under a lot of pressure, doing 14 hours working days when they are only contracted to do 11 hour shifts.

Ambulance crews were feeling "over-worked and stressed" he added.

It is expected that any industrial action by the 1,500 NEAS Unison members would fall short of a strike but could see a work to rule or overtime ban.

The NEAS has stressed that the plan, once implemented, should increase the number of staff working in the NEAS accident and emergency service from around 970 to around 1,040.