North East Ambulance Services goes on strike

By and Waseem Mohamed

North East Ambulance Services (NEAS) are going on strike today (21st of December) over a national pay dispute and working conditions. Paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers from three unions — GMB, Unite and Unison — will walk out for a 24 hour period which began at midnight.  

The NEAS has urged members of the public to use the service “wisely” during the action, as ambulance crews are likely to prioritise emergencies that represent an immediate risk to life or limb. Health ministers and NHS chiefs have warned the public to avoid risky activities and getting drunk during the strikes, while hundreds army personnel have bene drafted in to help fill in gaps within the service.

The strikes comes just days after the NEAS declared a “critical incident” this week, after more than 200 patients suffered from delays waiting for an ambulance due to reduced staffing levels and problems with ambulance handovers at hospitals. The public were urged to only call the service in a “life-threatening” emergency.

More than 750 ambulance workers in the North East voted to strike in the recent ballot over a “Government imposed” 4% pay award, which the unions say represents a real-terms pay cut. The unions are also concerned about unsafe staffing levels within the ambulance service.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Secretary, said: “Ambulance workers — like other NHS workers — are on their knees. Demoralised and downtrodden, they’ve faced twelve years Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, fought on the frontline of a global pandemic and now face the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.  

“No one in the NHS takes strike action lightly — today shows just how desperate they are. This is as much about unsafe staffing levels and patient safety as it is about pay. A third of GMB ambulance workers think delays they’ve been involved with have led to the death of a patient.  

“We want to encourage people to use services wisely and prepare where possible”

Stephen segasby

“Something has to change or the service as we know it will collapse. GMB calls on the Government to avoid a Winter of NHS strikes by negotiating a pay award that these workers deserve.” 

Stephen Segasby, Chief Operating Officer at NEAS said: “Our priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our patients and staff. We have planned with great care for this strike, but our services will be extremely busy and we do expect them to be severely disrupted.

“We also anticipate that the days after the strike will be busy and as we head into an extended bank holiday over Christmas, we want to encourage people to use services wisely and prepare where possible.

“Ambulances will still be able to respond during the strike, but this will only be where there is an immediate risk to life. This means that less serious calls will not receive a response for the duration of the strike action and some patients might be asked to make their own way to hospital, where it is safe for them to do so.

“Patients waiting for an ambulance should only call back if your symptoms worsen so that our health advisors are available to take new emergency calls or to cancel an ambulance if alternative transport has been arranged.”

A further strike for ambulance workers will take place on the 28th of December. 

Image: David Clark via Wikimedia Commons

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