More crunch talks are to be held between union officials and management of Great Western Ambulance Service (GWAS) in a bid to avert ambulance staff taking industrial action.

Unison balloted members after unrest among front line ambulance staff following the introduction of shift changes in November across Wiltshire, Avon and Gloucestershire.

Unison says the shift changes involve staff battling through rush-hour traffic at the start or end of their shift and earlier start times are causing fatigue.

GWAS said the changes had been made to ensure there is the right availability of ambulance crews, particularly at peak demand.

A ballot of members, carried out last month by Unison, showed that just over 96 per cent were in favour of industrial action.

As a result talks were held at the offices of ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) in Bristol on Friday but no resolution was reached. Further talks will be held today (Friday) at ACAS.

Unison South West regional organiser Simon Newell said: “Meaningful discussions have taken place and some progress has been made, but we’re still a long way off resolving our differences so discussions will have to continue.

“The changes (to shift patterns) made are detrimental to patients’ health as well as our members. Management are just not listening to reason.”

David Whiting, the outgoing chief executive of GWAS, said before the talks began last Friday: “The changes we are making are about saving more lives. To do that we need to ensure we have the trained staff and vehicles available when and where our patients need us.

“This is not about job cuts and it is not about cutting salaries. The changes to shift start and finish times were made so that we can keep as many staff on the road at any one time.”

Unison has not revealed the details of the ballot result but the Times understands that 362 out of 560 Unison members voted in the ballot, with 349 (96.4 per cent) in favour of industrial action short of a strike and 269 (74.3 per cent) in favour of industrial action including a strike.

Mr Whiting said if Unison members take industrial action GWAS had “robust contingency plans” in place to ensure the service continues. This is likely to include employing agency staff