Ambulance crews are being hit with fines for using empty bus lanes, says UNISON today (Wednesday).
Many UK cities are banning ambulances from public transport lanes when it’s not a 999 emergency, according to the union.
Many ambulance drivers, who use the lanes to avoid traffic and speed up journeys for patients needing vital care, have received penalties, delegates attending UNISON’s annual health conference in Bournemouth heard.
Patients who are in discomfort or need vital treatment such as dialysis could end up stuck in traffic congestion if the fines continue, says UNISON.
The clampdown also puts further pressure on the NHS as people miss appointments because the ambulance they’re travelling in is caught in city centre gridlock.
The picture is mixed, the conference heard, with individual towns and cities across the UK adopting different approaches.
This lack of consistency can cause confusion for crews moving between areas, says UNISON.
Richard Bentley from UNISON’s Yorkshire Ambulance Service Branch said he can use bus lanes in Leeds but not in other cities.
The paramedic said: “If I leave Leeds and head to Bradford or York, I’m subject to a £60 fine. That’s if I forget I’m not allowed to use their bus lanes. Several colleagues have fallen foul of this and there’s nothing we can do.”
UNISON North East Ambulance Service branch secretary Joel Byers said: “If ambulance services use taxis to transport patients, those vehicles can use bus lanes yet ambulances designed for that very purpose will be fined.”
Some councils have dropped fines following appeals. However, drivers’ time is then wasted on paperwork, which could be better used responding to calls, says UNISON.
UNISON North West Ambulance Service branch secretary Jeff Gorman,said fines are a widespread problem across Greater Manchester and are rarely waived.
He said: “You’d expect a bit of common sense from councils. But they still issue fines if colleagues use bus lanes during restricted hours.”
UNISON is calling for bus routes nationwide to be available for ambulances at all times and campaigning for councils to drop restrictions.
National ambulance officer Colm Porter said: “Crews need to get patients to hospital quickly but not every call requires lights and sirens.
“Councils must stop leaving crews out of pocket for putting patients first, and being taken out of action because they then get stuck in traffic jams.”
Notes to editors:
– In some cities, ambulances can only use bus lanes when their blue lights and sirens are on to signify a patient with a life-threatening condition is on board. These emergency signals give an exemption from normal traffic legislation. However, there can be serious consequences if an accident occurs and the decision to ‘blue light’ cannot later be justified.
– Some vehicles aren’t fitted with blue lights and sirens but are transporting people for dialysis, cancer treatment, urgent blood tests or other life-saving procedures.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.
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