Further ambulance strikes imminent

Ambulance staff from three unions are planning further strikes imminently, further placing pressure on the Government’s negotiations over pay and working conditions.

Ambulance staff belonging to three unions – GMB, Unison and Unite – are planning further strikes in a dispute over pay and working conditions. The strike, which is taking place in some parts of England and Wales, comes as freezing temperatures affect parts of the UK, with the UK Health Security Agency extending the current level 3 cold weather alert until 9am on Friday.

During this period, it is important to check in on family, friends, and relatives who may need help, experts say. If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over the age of 65, it is important to try and heat your home to at least 18°C if you can.

Life-threatening 999 calls will be attended to but other emergencies, such as slips on icy pavement may not be. The cold carries health risks, particularly for vulnerable patients, as it increases the risks of heart attacks, strokes, and chest infections, as well as falls and accidents.

The announcement of further strikes will worry millions across the UK, limiting access to life-saving treatment and care. With seasonal pressures on the health service, healthcare workers are pushing for negotiations from the Government.

Union leaders have their say

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham was asked whether it was right to go on strike when weather conditions might make accidents more likely. She said ministers had been warned that industrial action was inevitable unless they talked with unions about how to invest in the workforce.

She added: “We’ve got a workforce crisis going on across the NHS and that’s manifesting itself most acutely in the ambulance service. None of those people who are out on strike want to be there. They want to be doing the jobs that they love and those jobs are just being compromised on a day-to-day basis.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said a “solution” to the strike was “staring the government in the face”. The biggest day of industrial action for the NHS in this ongoing dispute over pay is set to happen on 6 February, when nurses will walk out too.

Fourteen health unions, representing more than a million NHS workers in England, have said they will no longer work with the NHS Pay Review Body on discussions about the next (2023-24) pay deal until their current demands are met.

In Scotland, a pay offer averaging 7.5 percent has been accepted by some unions.

In Northern Ireland, the government has said it will give a 4.5 percent uplift to pay, backdated to April 2022. That is a below-inflation increase for most workers.

Government response

The Government says the above-inflation pay rise requested is unaffordable to the country’s national expenditure.

Pay rises are decided by independent pay review bodies. NHS staff in England and Wales – including nurses – have already received an average increase of 4.75 percent. The lowest paid were guaranteed a rise of at least £1,400.

The Welsh government has offered a one-off payment as a way to avoid strike action, but that was rejected by unions.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said Monday’s industrial action was “hugely disappointing” and despite contingency plans to mitigate risks to patient safety, “there will inevitably be further disruption”.

He added: “I have had constructive talks with unions about this coming year’s pay process for 2023-24, and am keen to continue talking about what is affordable and fair.”

Final thought

The announcement of further ambulance strikes, alongside the recent cold weather snap has naturally worried millions across the UK. With already record-breaking backlogs and lowering standards of treatment and care, the public are left wondering if they may be left during an emergency.

The unions have a clear will to press the issue, placing extreme pressure on Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak and Mr Barclay to negotiate a settlement. However, with the tightening fiscal policy planned under Mr Sunak’s premiership – the chance of a settlement in the immediate future looks very slim.

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