Health secretary on impact of ambulance strikes amid pay dispute
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Soldiers have cast doubt over how effective they will be as they prepare to cover for striking ambulance workers. The Government is preparing for walkouts by ambulance drivers with troops set to step in to mitigate some of the expected disruption.
In total, 750 members of the Armed Forces have been called up to drive ambulances tomorrow (December 21).
The soldiers have completed five days of training, but are not expected to provide emergency transport. They have been they cannot break the speed limit, use blue lights or treat anyone, according to The Times.
A soldier told the same publication: “It’s crazy. We’ve had some training, but we can’t drive with blue lights on — so people needing an emergency transfer to hospital will have to wait for another ambulance.
“We’re also not allowed to provide any medical support. So I’m not actually sure what we’re doing here.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to back down and negotiate on public sector pay to halt a wave of industrial action. The ambulance strikes come a day after the second nurses’ walkout.
Tory frontbencher Lady Goldie told Parliament on Monday that a total of 1,455 personnel were ready to be deployed – a fifth more than the 1,200 previously reported.
Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin has said the military is “busy” and should not be treated as “spare capacity”.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “We’re not spare capacity. We’re busy and we’re doing lots of things on behalf of the nation. We’ve got to focus on our primary role.”
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Minister Will Quince said individual NHS trusts are putting in place contingencies ahead of Wednesday’s ambulance strike.
It comes as Health Secretary Steve Barclay is due to meet unions representing striking ambulance drivers in 11th hour talks later today although the discussions are not expected to avert the action.
Mr Quince told GB News: “There are minimum service levels which are negotiated at a local level called derogations between the unions and individual trusts.
“In some cases, with regards to nurses, that will happen at a national level. With ambulances, it is all happening at a local level.”
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He added: “Those conversations are ongoing. We will meet the unions later today.
“But it’s actually at an individual ambulance trust level, those derogations are taking place. And I know that individual trusts are putting all sorts of contingencies in place.”
Lady Goldie told Parliament repeated use of troops to cover strike action “is not a viable long-term solution” adding requests for military help would not be approved if it risked the Armed Forces’ primary task to defend.
She was pressed over the use of troops to replace striking staff by Conservative former Defence Minister Lord Robathan, who highlighted the move to cut 10,000 troops from the army.
Pointing out any request was governed by guidelines, she said: “These set out that military support is to be called on only when aid from elsewhere in government or from the commercial sector is not available.
“The issue of additional pay is under consideration and is being explored with the Treasury.”
Lord Robathan, who served in the SAS, said: “It is the role of the armed forces to defend and support this country and its people in difficult times, including times like this.”
He added: “That is absolutely fine. However, while the Government praise the armed forces so often, not only are we cutting numbers but we are not paying them sufficiently.”
Lord Robathan continued: “The people who are going to be working over Christmas are probably paid a lot less than those who are on strike and whom they are replacing and, by the way, they do not get overtime in the armed forces.”
Former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised Admiral Sir Tony Radakin for intervening in the row.
He told the BBC: “I’m a bit worried about senior military figures sounding off on their opinions. I think the job of the military is to do what they’re told by civilian authorities. It’s not for the military to be expressing their views.
“I don’t think this is constitutionally how it should be. The military are not there to be making political statements about what they will or won’t do, that should be private, so I’m surprised that he’s making these comments.”
Under the Military Aid to Civilian Authorities rules, Government departments which want to use the Armed Forces are charged £4,000 a week per soldier.
The cost aims to deter public sector bodies from relying on troops to plug gaps and compensate the Ministry of Defence for any disruption.
It is believed the costs so far amount to about £5.4million a week. This could rise to £10m.
On the issue of extra pay for Armed Forces personnel, Lady Goldie said compensation arrangements already existed for personnel, but added: “Decisions are currently under consideration by the Government, although none have yet been made.”
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