Unison has begun balloting ambulance staff on whether they would support industrial action in protest at shift changes introduced last month.

The changes, by the Great Western Ambulance Service, have proved unpopular with front line ambulance staff in Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire.

The majority of 12 hour shifts in Wiltshire used to be 7am to 7pm or 7pm to 7am but the start times now range between 5am and 9am.

Chris Hewett, Unison steward and a paramedic supervisor in Bristol, said: “Ambulance staff are raising quite serious safety and welfare concerns of patients and staff regarding the shift changes imposed in November.

“We did a questionnaire of our members and 97 per cent said they didn’t have confidence in the changes. We had a response rate of 75 per cent of our 600 members.

“The next step is to get a mandate for industrial action by balloting our members.”

Mr Hewett said industrial action could include work to rule, refusing to work overtime or strikes.

But he said: “No one wants industrial action. All the management at GWAS need to do is get round the table and address the concerns of staff.

“We are used to working unsocial shifts, that’s part of the job. If staff are starting their shift at 5am they have to get up at 3am and then there’s a risk of fatigue later in the shift.

“For staff who finish their shift at 9am the traffic is appalling so if they have dropped off a patient at hospital at the end of their shift they will have to fight their way through the traffic and it will mean them arriving home at 10am or 11am seriously fatigued.

“Unison suggested staggered start times of 6am, 6.30am, 7am and 7.30am.”

There are 930 front line staff in GWAS of which about 600 are members of Unison. The result of the ballot will be known in early January.

David Whiting, the outgoing chief executive of GWAS, expressed disappointment at Unison’s ballot.

Mr Whiting said: “The changes (to shift patterns) we are making are simply about ensuring we have the right number of staff and vehicles available when patients ring 999. These changes will benefit patients by saving more lives and benefit our staff by sharing workload and creating job security.

“These changes are based on evidence and all information has been shared with staff and unions. We have not made unilateral decisions, we have spent the last six months consulting with staff and meeting with union representatives on a regular basis. We believe that the majority of staff understand the need for these changes.”