The NHS is facing the most extensive strike in its history, as ambulance workers announced a series of walkouts today. NHS employees and members of the GMB union are demanding higher pay rates from the government, asmore strikes are expected in the West Midlands and Northern Ireland. There were signs of talks between the Health Secretary for England and ambulance unions last week, but it looks like a resolution won’t be happening for a while.

The Unite union has announced ten days of strikes by ambulance workers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Four dates will coincide with walkouts by ambulance staff from another union, the GMB. 

Why are they protesting?

According to the Living Wage Foundation, 24 NHS trusts out of 219 are accredited real living wage employers, which means that they offer staff a minimum wage of at least £10.90 an hour. Only 13 of the city’s 34 NHS trusts are accredited in London.

“Can’t afford to have the heating on and feed a family of 6. Has to be one or the other. Years of no wage rise beginning to bite,” said an ambulance care assistant. “It really is a choice of heat or eat now,” stated a second NHS employee.

Ambulance workers will strike on January 23, followed by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy members, who will strike from January 26 to February 9. The Royal College of Nursing will go on strike on February 6 and 7. 

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Sunak’s anti-strike policy 

The GMB union has accused the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, of “demonizing” paramedics, call handlers, and emergency care assistants. 

“We feel utterly betrayed by the way your government has singled out ambulance workers as part of a crude attempt to remove our right to strike,” wrote Steve Rice, on behalf of the GMB Ambulance committee, in a letter to Sunak. 

“You and your ministers should be ashamed of the way you have tried to paint us as uncaring about safety standards – nothing could be further from the truth.

Downing Street reacted to the accusation by stating that it “greatly values” ambulance workers and that the “door remains open” for talks. 

However, some ministers have said that the strikes threaten British lives who might need urgent care during the strike period. 

You might struggle to get an ambulance on time

In an emergency, the government urges patients to call 999. According to the NHS, each ambulance trust will outline a plan for strike days.

Mitigations for the ambulance strike days being considered include:

  • using the military to transfer patients with less urgent conditions to and from the hospital
  • using St John Ambulance and Community First responders
  • using taxis to transport less critically ill people to and from hospitals where clinically appropriate
  • ensuring strong clinical triage in call centers
  • optimizing discharges from hospitals to create capacity.

The NHS also informs that patients with life-threatening medical conditions might experience service delays, and some planned care appointments may be rescheduled. 

Ambulances might be late during the strikes, as delays are already happening. 

NHS data from last Thursday revealed that ambulance delays at hospitals in England are already at a new high, a week before the ambulance strike. One in six patients waited more than an hour to be passed to emergency department teams, and one in three waited at least 30 minutes.

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