Ambulance workers announce fresh wave of strikes for January in dispute over pay and staffing

Ambulance workers announce fresh wave of strikes for January in dispute over pay and staffing

The ambulance workers of the union Unison are to carry out two new strikes in the wage and job dispute, it was announced on Thursday evening.

Union members from five English ambulance services – including one in London – will resign on January 11 and 23.

The strike will affect the capital Yorkshire, the North West, the North East and the South West and follows actions by members of three ambulance unions on Wednesday.

The strikes in January each last 24 hours from midnight to midnight and will affect all ambulance workers, not just the 999 emergency crews as was the case on Wednesday.

Unison said the new strikes were a direct result of the Government’s “repeated refusal” to negotiate NHS pay improvements this year.

News of the strikes came as NHS trust leaders predicted on Thursday this Christmas could be one of the darkest yet for the healthcare sector.

They warned that strikes threaten to aggravate an “already deeply challenging situation” facing the NHS.

Health chiefs are working to mitigate the impact of industrial action while also having to deal with an “incredibly long list of other serious challenges”, NHS providers have said.

Ambulance workers at a picket line outside Waterloo ambulance station in London on Wednesday (PA Wire)

Ambulance workers at a picket line outside Waterloo ambulance station in London on Wednesday (PA Wire)

Last week’s figures show one in four ambulance patients in England have waited more than an hour to be handed over to emergency teams at hospitals, while new data suggest patients in hospital with the flu have “skyrocketed” in England and Strep A ‘close to record ‘drives’ demand for NHS 111 services.

When ambulance workers left on Wednesday, the London Ambulance Service warned sick Londoners they were “unlikely to get an ambulance” unless they were at risk of dying and advised those without a life-threatening condition to self-go to hospital , while they were Health Secretary Will Quince urged people to protect themselves by avoiding “risky” activities.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay enraged union leaders on Wednesday by saying they had made a “conscious choice” to harm people by allowing strikes.

However, many of the workers at the striking services are likely to be exempted from action in January under contingency plans drawn up locally by each ambulance employer in conjunction with Unison, the union said.

Unison Secretary General Christina McAnea said: “Only through talks can this dispute be ended. No health worker wants to go on strike again in the new year.

“But accusing NHS staff of making a conscious decision to harm the public by taking action this week was not the Health Secretary’s finest hour.

“It was also not a particularly smart move by Steve Barclay to falsely accuse healthcare unions of not having presented a national emergency plan. The Secretary of State was well aware that local ambulance managers and unions were making arrangements to cover life and limb.

“It’s time Steve Barclay stopped the insults and lies and got unions involved in proper talks about improving NHS pay.

Paramedics and ambulances during Wednesday's strike ((Katie Boyden/PA))

Paramedics and ambulances during Wednesday’s strike ((Katie Boyden/PA))

“The acceleration of the payroll review body next year will not resolve the current dispute over the pathetic amount the government has allocated to health workers this year.

“The government must stop using the Payroll Verification Service as a cover for its own inaction. This year’s pay rise simply wasn’t enough to stop the brain drain from the NHS.

“The government should correct this mistake with an increase more in line with inflation. Only then will vacancy rates come down and allow the NHS to get back on track and start delivering safe patient care again.”

After the festive break, Unison will start asking around 13,000 staff across 10 English NHS trusts if they are ready to go on strike in the spring.

Because the turnout in the last ballot, the results of which were announced last month, was just below the legally prescribed threshold.

This covers all of England’s remaining five Ambulance Services – West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, South East Coast and South Central. There will also be a re-election of staff working for the Welsh Ambulance Service.

Unison health workers employed at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Liverpool Women’s Hospital, London’s Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and North West-based Bridgewater Community Trust are being asked to vote again.

There will also be a re-vote from Unison members who work for the NHS blood and transplant service.

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