AN AMBULANCE trust has disputed claims that its vehicles can cause “catastrophic” injuries including "decapitation".

The GMB trade union has alleged that South East Coast Ambulance Trust (Secamb) is "risking lives" through the use of "bargain basement" Fiat ambulances.

Motoring giant Fiat says it is working with both GMB and Secamb to answer any concerns about the safety of the vehicles.

Safety reps from the GMB union said that Fiat vehicles, which the Trust operates alongside its traditional Mercedes fleet, have a significant safety flaw.

In a statement it said the safety reps found that because the seat position has been changed staff and patients cannot place the seat belt correctly across their collar bone and shoulder.

The union’s health and safety assessment allegedly suggests that the seatbelts could lead to "severe injury and even decapitation".

A spokesman for Secamb said: "We take the safety of our staff and patients extremely seriously and have established processes for staff to raise any concerns about our fleet. All our ambulances are built in line with national specifications.

"The seat and seatbelt positions are unaltered as part of the ambulance conversion process which we review and ensure meets the service specification before authorising for use."

GMB has written to thousands of its Secamb members urging them not to use the vehicles without seeking a personal risk assessment.

It has also called for the Fiat models to be banned until an independent review looks into whether they are safe for staff and patients.

A Fiat spokesman said: "The Fiat Professional Ducato, alongside all new vehicles, must adhere to European Type Approval regulations.

"The installation of seat belts is carried out in accordance with rules set by the ECE14 and ECE16 standards.

"If these standards are not adhered to, the vehicle cannot be approved and therefore sold.

"Fiat Professional’s vehicles, including the Ducato, fully comply with all legislation.

"Fiat Professional will continue to work with the GMB and Secamb to answer any concerns.”

GMB organiser Lib Whitfield accused other ambulance trusts across the UK of “trying to cut costs by using these bargain basement vehicles, instead of the safer specification Mercedes ambulances, but they are risking lives".

She added: “These adapted vehicles aren’t safe for running errands, never mind speeding to save someone’s life.

“It is only a matter of time before someone dies. GMB will not be kept silent by an uncaring employer.”

Ms Whitfield says that the service had ordered at least 60 more of the “potential death traps”, despite union reps highlighting their concerns on numerous occasions.

She said: “GMB cannot stand by and wait for someone to lose their life or suffer catastrophic injuries. If Secamb is so certain these vehicles are safe, why not allow an independent safety assessment?”

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