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24 January 2011, 14:03 | Updated: 10 February 2011, 11:28
Up to £5,000 a year could be lost from the wages of frontline ambulance staff as part of a drive to cut costs, union officials claimed today.
South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) is proposing to achieve savings by reducing unsocial hours payments, according to the GMB.
Critics said there was a ``very real'' fear that patient safety could be compromised by the plans.
But the trust - which covers a population of 4.5 million across Kent, Sussex and Surrey - disputed union claims that alternatives include reducing salaries or making up to 30 staff redundant.
GMB regional organiser Rob Macey said: ``GMB will fight these proposals which will have a devastating effect on employees and their families.
``GMB members feel they are being treated appallingly by Secamb, who appear hell-bent on making these cuts in order to achieve their Foundation Trust status.
``GMB consider that paramedics, technicians and other ambulance workers provide a vitally important service to the public and they should be paid properly for doing so.
``Morale is now at an all-time low and it is a very real fear that patient safety could be put in jeopardy.''
Peter Skinner, Labour MEP for South East England, said: ``To see dedicated ambulance workers being treated in this way is unacceptable.
``These people aren't bureaucratic managers, they are the frontline of our health service.
``They are the paramedics, technicians and ambulance staff that work hard to save lives.
``There will be no doubt that these cuts will have a devastating effect on individual workers, but this could also threaten the future quality of ambulance services across the South East.''
The trust has to make savings of about £40 million over the next five years as part of the wider NHS's commitment to make £20 billion savings.
A spokesman for Secamb said it has a ``responsibility to taxpayers to spend its funds wisely, particularly given the current financial climate''.
But the trust insisted it was committed to protecting frontline services and that no frontline jobs were under threat.
However it did say that there will be changes to the way the allowance is paid
In 2004 the NHS introduced new terms and conditions for all NHS staff, except doctors, known as Agenda for Change. Under Agenda for Change, staff who work more than 21 unsocial hours per week on average are entitled to 25 per cent unsocial hours payment.
Currently the majority of the Trust's frontline staff are paid the full 25 per cent unsocial hours premium, regardless of whether or not they have worked more than 21 unsocial hours per week on average.
This is because when Agenda for Change was first introduced it was not possible to accurately calculate the amount of unsocial hours worked and calculations were based on the rota pattern the member of staff was expected to work rather than the hours they actually worked.
However, the introduction of new rota software now means that the Trust can accurately measure what hours each member of staff has worked ensuring that all frontline staff are treated equally and a fair payment system can be introduced - one where people are paid for the work they undertake.