AN AMBULANCE technicians' dispute that left paramedics only able to reach half of the most serious life threatening 999 calls on time, is on the verge of being resolved.
Union officials suspended their latest 12-hour strike in the dispute over pay after managers announced they were willing to call in an independent mediator.
A walk-out, planned to last from 7am yesterday, would have been the sixth in as many weeks by about 200 Merseyside and Cheshire Ambulance Services Union (ASU) members.
Union leaders are due to meet North West Ambulance Service Trust managers this morning to see if they can agree on an independent body acting as an external mediator.
The dispute hinges on whether technicians in Merseyside and Cheshire should have been placed in Band 4 of the NHS's new national Agenda for Change pay scale.
The ASU says the banding means a £2,000 cut in each technician's basic annual salary from around £21,000 to £19,000.
Most technicians across the country have so far been placed in Band 4, below more highly skilled paramedics in Band 5.
But technicians are eligible for Band 5 in London, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire if they agree to extra training, which the ASU says is already standard in Merseyside and Cheshire.
Last night ASU spokesman Ray Carrick said: "It is not fair to offer one pay scale to some areas on the basis of further training, but not to technicians in Merseyside and Cheshire where they already do that training."
. Mr Carrick confirmed the union had already lodged a request for a review of whether paramedics should be moved up to Band 6 once the technicians' dispute is resolved.
He said: "That is not likely to reach the point of strike action, because everything has been done above board with the paramedics.
"The problem over the technicians' pay is that they haven't stuck to what we agreed. Management initially said they would be bound by an independent assessment of technicians' skills.
"But when that assessment found they should go into Band 5 they reneged and instigated a second assessment, which recommended Band 4."
Relations have become increasingly strained in the last fortnight, after the Trust's chief executive said his decision to implement an overall 14% pay rise for technicians was "non-negotiable".
A trust spokesman said: "A process of mediation has been agreed between the Ambulance Service and the ASU in the dispute over the national pay process. In the meantime, we are pleased to see that the ASU have suspended any further action whilst this mediation process is under way."
Management have already pledged £1m to develop the skills of about 90 technicians to allow improvements in salary over time.