Union bosses ‘risking patients’ lives’ with ambulance strikes

Ambulance workers and NHS staff to strike days before Christmas

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Union bosses have been accused of putting patients’ lives in danger by holding ambulance strikes next week. Under the union plans, ambulance crews in England will strike on December 21 and 28 as part of a coordinated industrial action by the GMB, Unison and Unite unions in a dispute over pay. Whitehall’s emergency COBRA was left reeling, with government ministers scrambling to come up with plans to minimise the impact of the strikes on patients.

The strikes and the threat it poses to the most vulnerable has sparked backlash from former minister Brendan Clarke Smith who branded the move as “shameful”, adding: “This could cause chaos and put people’s lives at risk.”

Last night, senior government figures reportedly said talks with unions are “proving difficult”. 

A source reportedly said: “Some unions are so far keeping NHS trusts in the dark about how many staff will work on strike day and what kind of calls they will respond to. This is hampering plans to minimise the impact on patients.

“Ministers would rather unions call off strikes al­together but if they are intent on industrial action, we would appeal to them to cooperate with employers to ensure the disruption to vital services is kept to a minimum and so the public can be kept as safe as possible.”

Under national contingency plans, COBRA could draft the army and police officers to replace ambulance drivers and paramedics.

But the Police Federation, which represents around 140,000 rank and file officers, has expressed “grave concern” at the request. Steve Hartshorn, its national chairman, said that “police are not ambulance drivers or qualified paramedics”, as he warned that putting officers in ambulances would mean they are “not performing their police duties”.

NHS trusts have warned ministers that they are “flying blind” after the GMB and Unite refused to say how many drivers they expect to leave the workforce on Wednesday.

The British military is currently being trained to offset the impact of the unions’ strikes, with troops being deployed to NHS hospital trusts across the country to adapt to the ambulances.

A total of 750 military personnel will be deployed, with 600 driving ambulances and 150 in support roles to cover the 10,000 ambulance workers going on strike.

This comes as other sectors are going on strike over pay, including rail, the NHS, the Eurostar, buses, National Highways, baggage handlers, Royal Mail, nurses, driving examiners and civil servants.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, NHS Doctor Amir Khan admitted the ambulance strike will have a “huge impact” on patients and the NHS but insisted patients should dial 999 if they have a life-threatening emergency. 

He said: “They are prioritising category 1 and 2 illnesses which is things like heart attacks and strokes and life-threatening emergencies.”

Dr Khan added that there may be a longer wait as a result.

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Unions have rejected a four percent raise in pay as a “real terms cut”, which fails to keep pace with the 11.1 percent inflation, according to government data. 

As nurses and ambulance drivers joined RMT rail strikers on the picket line on. Thursday, Sir Jim Mackey, chief of the backlog recovery, warned ambulance strikes represent a critical danger to patients.

He said: “It’s a completely different order of magnitude of risk. I think that’s the main thing people are worried about, because of the complexity and fragility of urgent care.”

While Steve Brine, chairman of Parliament’s heath committee, called on the government to consider sending the pay offer to the pay review body, Health Minister Maria Caulfield said the soaring cost of government borrowing – caused by Liz Truss’ disastrous mini-budget – means they are unable to fund bigger pay rises.

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