UNION leaders at the Hereford and Worcester ambulance service have ruled out strike action after a private firm was hired to help reach 999 response targets.

Two paramedics have started a fortnight stint in the centre of Worcester as the trust aims to attend 75 per cent of life-threatening cases within eight minutes.

The service has only hit 74 per cent of the target at present and must work at 77 per cent until April, to meet the Government goal.

Crews are unhappy that they were not consulted about the temporary addition to the workforce and were not offered extra overtime.

They said they want to see more staff taken on to ensure the public receives the service it demands once the paramedics leave the area.

"This hasn't helped morale because staff believe it should be left to us to treat patients but there no intention of industrial action," said Pete Green, joint secretary of the Hereford and Worcester Ambulance Service branch of Unison.

"I know there are moves to increase staffing levels - there are people in training school and this kind of thing doesn't happen overnight. But I was hoping we'd come out of the era of getting private help."

He said the ambulance trust commissioned a survey of its equipment and staffing which concluded that two paramedic cars and extra vehicles were needed.

Jenny Procter, a spokesperson for the ambulance trust, said the two paramedics, thought to be supplied by Berkshire company Medilink, were fully qualified.

"We are looking at a period where performance is a bit of a challenge and the extra shifts will get us through that," she said.

"You can get hung up on targets. If you want an ambulance, you want it to be there quickly. It means it's not only a problem with ruining targets. It also means we are not providing the level of service we would like."

Last year, the trust only bettered the 75 per cent target by 0.3 per cent.