PLANS have emerged for a radical restructuring of the North's ambulance service - the second major change in just three years.

It was revealed last Thursday that the three separate services that currently cover the Yorkshire and North-East regions now want to go one step further and create two super-authorities.

And they have announced their intention to ask Health Secretary Alan Milburn to consult on the proposal.

It was only in 1999 that the Northumbria and Durham services joined forces to become the North East Ambulance Service.

In the same year the Cleveland, North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire services also joined forces, becoming the Tees, East and North Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

Now their respective boards, together with that of the neighbouring West Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service want to merge again, to create two services from the existing three.

Full details of the proposed merger have still to be revealed, but it is expected that it will involve transferring Cleveland to the North East service.

That would leave North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire to merge with the West Yorkshire service, creating two giant services that would also fit in with the proposed regional governments.

The news has surprised union officials - but only because it came earlier than expected.

Ray McDermott, Unison secretary at the North East Ambulance Service, said: "We knew it was on the cards but we didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

"At the moment the management has still not harmonised the terms and conditions of the former Northumbria and Durham county services - and until that has happened I can't see any point in complicating the equation. If we have yet another set of terms and conditions then as a union we would have to look at this really closely."

Depending on Mr Milburn's response, a three-month consultation programme could begin in September and the restructured services in place in late spring or early summer next year.