Ambulance staff warned ‘lives will be put at risk’ if they strike

Ambulance worker discusses patient care during strikes

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Crews voted to walk out on December 21 in a row over pay after three trade unions conspired over the industrial action.

Government insiders said the decision would mean “pain and discomfort” for vulnerable patients, such as older people who need help after a fall.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said it was “disappointing” but insisted the government’s priority was to make sure emergency services continue.

He said: “NHS workers do an incredible job caring for our loved ones and it is disappointing some will be taking industrial action, ahead of a challenging winter.

“The economic circumstances mean unions’ demands are not affordable – each additional one percent pay rise for all staff on the agenda for change contract would cost around £700 million a year.

“We’ve prioritised the NHS with record funding and accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendations to give over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, with those on the lowest salaries receiving an increase of up to 9.3 percent.

“This is on top of the three per cent award last year when wider public sector pay was frozen and on top of the wider government support to help with the cost of living.

“Our priority is to ensure emergency services continue to operate for those who need it and limit disruption, particularly at a time when NHS services are under huge pressure due to the impact of covid.

“People should continue to use NHS 111 online for urgent healthcare advice and call 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency.”

Thousands of GMB, Unison and Unite members will strike at a number of trusts in England and Wales.

Union leaders are refusing to continue negotiations because the government has accepted independent recommendations about how much workers should be paid.

The strike will happen a day after members of the Royal College of Nursing stage their second walkout in a row over salaries.

Most ambulance staff have received a rise of at least four percent, increasing average basic pay per person to around £34,300, according to the government.

On top of that additional earnings worth around 37 percent of basic pay to for working anti-social hours, overtime and other top ups take the figure up to £47,000 per person.

Paramedics who are members of the NHS Pension Scheme also receive a pension contribution worth 20 percent of their salary.

A Whitehall source said: “We would urge the unions to think again. We have tried and tested contingency plans in place but if the union strikes it will have an impact on patients.

“It will cause pain and discomfort for people and put lives at risk. We are saying come and talk to us. Steve’s door is open.

“The government cannot afford to give in to unaffordable pay demands. It would mean more tax rises for everyone.”

More than 10,000 GMB members will strike at nine trusts in the south east, south west, north west, south central, north east, east and west midlands, Wales and Yorkshire.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: “After 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, NHS staff have had enough.

“The last thing they want to do is take strike action but the Government has left them with no choice.”

Unite said more than 1,600 of its members at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts will join the walkout.

Unison said its strike, involving paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew members, will run from noon to midnight.

They will be joined by Unison nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS workers at two Liverpool hospitals, who will also take action that day.

The strike at the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Liverpool University Hospital starts at 7.30am on Wednesday December 21 and ends 24 hours later.

Unison is also about to begin reballoting around 13,000 NHS staff working for 10 trusts and ambulance services where turnout in the recent strike vote fell just short of the threshold required by law.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the prospect of strikes over Christmas was “very concerning” to health leaders.

He said: “Staffing urgent and critical care services will continue to be their number one priority and leaders will ensure their local communities understand how their specific services will be affected as this may vary from region to region.

“If ambulance staff, 999 call handlers and nurses walk out on consecutive days over the festive period then undoubtedly this will affect patient care and ambulance response times, despite everything the NHS is doing to prepare for these strikes.

“Health leaders are also concerned that the prospect of strike action may affect how people decide to engage with the NHS but the advice remains that if it is an emergency, it is vital they should still call 999.”

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “The potential to escalate action and for prolonged, joint strikes by health unions in January if talks don’t take place is very worrying.

“As with the upcoming industrial action by the Royal College of Nursing, trusts affected will do everything they can to minimise disruption for patients on Friday 21st and Friday 28th December.

“Their priority, as always, remains the safe delivery of care and services for patients during any industrial action and to support the wellbeing of their staff.

“But the challenges strike action presents for the health service at a time when it is under serious strain across every part of the system is undeniable. This will inevitably have an impact on some patients.

“Leaders across the NHS of course understand how strongly ambulance staff, including 999 call handlers, ambulance technicians, paramedics and their colleagues working for ambulance services feel and why they’ve got to this point: below-inflation pay awards amid the rising cost of living, severe staff shortages, rising operational pressures and ever-increasing workloads have all taken their toll.

“There must be no delay in getting down to serious, meaningful negotiations to end this dispute before it escalates still further.”

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