London ambulance service could be 'broken up by the back door' and sold to private enterprise, the health union Unison has warned.

Union officials fear ambulance crews will end the current industrial truce unless they get a guarantee that the service will not be put out to tender.

Unison says delays over training new staff and purchasing new ambulances means the service is almost certain to miss response time targets set by the Government. The Department of Health is demanding that ambulances arrive on 80 per cent of calls within 14 minutes.

The union fears that if the LAS misses that target it could be used as an excuse to break up the provision of accident and emergency service and lead to a chunk of the pounds 14.8m special funding, allocated to help the service to improve its performance, being withdrawn.

Last month the service was achieving a 62.2 per cent response rate within the recommended time, placing it bottom of national results.

Other metropolitan ambulance services are expected to ensure 95 per cent of crews arrive within 14 minutes. Most succeeded or came within 2 per cent of that target.

In a report to a select committee of MPs, Unison has called for clarification on what will happen if the LAS fails.

It warns that if the service is further weakened by lack of investment it could be 'broken up through the back door' when purchasing control of the LAS is given to local health authorities in 1996.

Unison regional officer Linda Perks said: 'The future of the LAS as a single entity is conditional on meeting this target. I would be very surprised to see us meet 80 per cent by September.

'The Government is planning to abolish North Thames and South Thames Regional Health Authorties and devolve funding to 16 local health authorities who will have no idea how to run emergency and accident service.

'I have no doubt that they will then try to put A and E out to tender and run for profit. People in the service are worried and fearful of such a future.

The LAS has been dogged by controversy since its pounds 1.5m computer system collapsed on 26 October 1992.

Unison has supported the new management team, appointed as part of a radical programme of changes instigated after an inquiry into the computer crash.

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