Ambulance strikes cast greater concerns the second time around

Thousands of paramedics and support staff have once again hit the picket line in a dispute over pay, casting fears that repercussions will be worse than the ones before Christmas.

An estimated 25,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales are taking part in strike action today, causing concerns some patients will be forced to make their own way to hospital. 

NHS providers said this strike would be harder to cope with, as the government has raised fears over the lack of a national deal on emergency cover.

Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: ‘Today’s ambulance strike is an unwelcome return to unnecessary disruption and comes at a time when the NHS is already under huge pressure from COVID-19 and flu.

‘While we have contingency plans in place, including support from the military, community first responders and extra call handlers, to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be some disruption for patients with fewer ambulances on the road.’

Mr Barclay criticised unions for failing to agree on minimum service levels during the strike on a national level after they said they were agreements made on local levels.

Government concerns have also risen after unions have refused to agree to the bill, which was published on Tuesday, that states unions must have minimum safety levels during key worker strikes.

The bill claims some public sector workers would be required to work during strike action, however unions have threatened legal action if it is passed.

During today’s walkout, NHS England has advised patients to continue to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies but to use 111, GPs and pharmacies for non-urgent needs.

The health body said some people may need to make their own way to hospital but urged people to seek medical advice before doing so.

Ben Holdaway, Director of Operations at the East Midlands Ambulance Service said teams in the area have worked to maximise the number of staff, though he anticipated a ‘much slower’ response than usual.

Mr Holdaway said: ‘Where possible our 999 control rooms will carefully assess and prioritise an ambulance response for those who need it most, and this may only be where there is a threat to life.’

Unison, one of the unions involved in strike action, has balloted 15,000 of it’s members to engage in strike action in London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and and South West. 

Additionally, more than 10,000 GMB ambulance workers are due to strike, meaning areas in the south and midlands will also be affected. 

Walkouts will be staggered over 24 hour periods, with workers only be allowed to strike for 12 hours at a time and will include paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians. Call handlers will only be walking out for six hours at a time.

This is the second time ambulance workers have decided to strike – their first walkout occurred last month. 

Photo by Mat Napo


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