Ambulance workers announce six more strikes as bitter pay row escalates

Paramedics with Unite to join colleagues on picket lines, including on date already billed as potentially largest strike in NHS history

Andy Gregory
Friday 20 January 2023 11:35 GMT
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A series of fresh strikes by ambulance workers has been announced by Unite in an escalation of the bitter dispute over pay and staffing.

The union said its members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will stage six further strikes over the coming weeks, warning that additional dates could also be announced soon.

They will bolster the ranks of their paramedic colleagues with the GMB union, who announced on Wednesday that more than 10,000 of their members in England and Wales will also strike on overlapping dates.

That includes 6 February, when thousands of nurses will also walk out in what had already been billed as potentially the largest-ever strike in the 75-year history of the NHS.

The extent of the crisis in emergency care came into sharper focus still on Friday, as analysis by The Independent of NHS data and harm estimates by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives found that a record number of patients suffered “severe harm” as a result of delays in December.

Nearly 6,000 patients suffered permanent or long-term harm due to long waits to hand over patients outside A&Es – up from just over 4,000 in November. A further 14,000 patients were likely to have suffered “moderate harm”, the analysis found.

Health secretary Steve Barclay has warned unions that paramedic strikes last week were not enough to “ensure patient and public safety”, as Rishi Sunak’s government pushes to impose minimum service levels.

But GMB pointed to NHS figures suggesting that ambulance delays actually fell on the day of the strikes – with delays of more than an hour in handing patients over to hospitals five times lower in England on 11 January compared to the non-strike day exactly one week prior.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Rather than act to protect the NHS and negotiate an end to the dispute, the government has disgracefully chosen to demonise ambulance workers.

“Ministers are deliberately misleading the public about the life and limb cover and who is to blame for excessive deaths.”

Tearful NHS nurse says she can 'barely make ends meet' as she breaks down on picket line

The current crisis has been described as “the worst ever” in emergency care, and just days ago The Independent revealed that the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for A&E treatment exceeded 50,000 a week for the first time ever last month.

The newly announced industrial action will take see paramedics with Unite walk out on varying dates including 6, 17, 20, 22 February and 6 and 20 March in five ambulance trusts across England and Wales,

Their colleagues in Northern Ireland will do so on 26 January and 16, 17, 23 and 24 February, it was announced last week.

Unite’s ambulance workers are already set to walk out next Monday as the bitter row with the government remains deadlocked.

The resolution to the dispute is “in the government’s hands”, added Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab, accusing ministers of failing to enter proper negotiations.

“The government’s constant attempts to kick the can down the road and its talk about one off payments, or slightly increased pay awards in the future, is simply not sufficient to resolve this dispute,” he said.

Health chiefs with NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation have warned of the damage prolonged disputes will cause to the health service, causing thousands more operations and appointments to be cancelled over the coming months.

But Mr Barclay appeared to appeared to rule out a 10 per cent pay rise for nurses during a hospital visit this week, insisting it was “not affordable” – after writing in The Independent that granting NHS staff the pay rise they are seeking “will mean cutting patient care and stoking” inflation.

The health secretary’s remarks were given short shrift on picket lines, and came depite an “olive branch” from the Royal College of Nursing as it relented last month to meet the government “halfway” on its initial demands of a 19 per cent pay rise.

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