Published: 15:55, 20 June 2022
| Updated: 16:20, 20 June 2022
A trade union says an ambulance trust's proposals to bring in new vehicles could have seen some staff dismissed "due to their body shape".
South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (Secamb) - which operates in Kent, Surrey, West Sussex and East Sussex - had planned to move to a "van-based" fleet.
But these vehicles would reportedly not be safe for approximately 10% of its frontline workforce.
Paramedics "too tall or small" to safely use its driver and passenger seats would reportedly have been at risk of dismissal.
But it is hoped all jobs will now be safe, following a backlash from the GMB union.
The configuration of seats and seat belts in the new vans would reportedly not provide adequate protection for staff of certain body types.
A statement issued by the GMB said: "Despite there being an option to maintain a mix of current and new vehicles and thereby protecting jobs, Secamb originally decided to pursue a process of changing their whole fleet to a van-based conversion fleet which could have led to 10% of staff having to leave an already understaffed and overstretched service."
Senior organiser for GMB Charles Harrity added: "It's ridiculous. It's an overstretched and understaffed service as it is.
"It's like someone putting in new doors in your office, and then they say 'sorry, you're too tall for the doors, you can't work here any more'.
"Frontline ambulance clinicians and paramedics are highly trained and qualified professionals.
"There has never been a minimum or maximum height requirement to work in the ambulance service..."
"The investment in the training and development of 10% of staff could have been thrown away due to their body shape.
"There has never been a minimum or maximum height requirement to work in the ambulance service. Skills and professionalism have always been the criteria to work in this service."
He added that the proposal could also affect future recruitment, and the trust's policy of promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workforce.
"The proposal also had the distinct possibility that long-term experienced staff could have been forced out of the service for the bizarre reason that they are either too small or too tall," he said.
GMB, along with sister trade unions, raised objections to the "bizarre and economically driven" proposal.
“The GMB will be seeking complete reassurance from Secamb that neither body shape nor size will be a defining criteria for employment in the ambulance service..."
Secamb has, for the time being, taken the proposal off the table.
“The GMB will be seeking complete reassurance from Secamb that neither body shape nor size will be a defining criteria for employment in the ambulance service," GMB added.
Secamb refused to clarify what exactly would make the ambulances unsafe, along with what the height restrictions would be.
The trust said a "handful" of staff would be affected and unable to drive the vehicles, but declined to give an exact number.
Secamb also refused to confirm the reason behind the ambulance overhaul.
Responding to the issue, a Secamb spokesman said: “Over the past few months we have listened and responded to the concerns raised by some of our staff regarding Fiat ambulances.
"We have worked with the national ambulance procurement team, the vehicle manufacturers and an independent expert to properly understand these concerns and find a way forward.
“Although not yet concluded, this work has clearly shown that the vehicles are able to be safely driven by the overwhelming majority of our staff.
“We continue to work with our unions to understand the implications for the handful of staff that may be affected and unable to drive these vehicles.
“Moving forwards, we are committed to ensuring that we work with our staff to inform our future fleet procurement.”
It comes after Secamb disputed claims its Fiat ambulances could cause "catastrophic" injuries including "decapitation".
In November, GMB claimed the vehicles, which Secamb uses alongside traditional Mercedes ambulances, had a significant safety flaw which meant staff and patients could not wear seatbelts correctly.
But Secamb said the ambulances were built in line with national specifications, with Fiat adding they complied with legislation.