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Strikes: England and Wales Ambulance Workers Walkout for 24 Hours

More than a thousand ambulance workers in Wales went on strike on Wednesday in a dispute over pay. GMB members make up about a quarter of the Welsh Ambulance Service and will only respond to the most urgent, life-threatening calls. This strike follows similar action taken by ambulance workers in England, who have also been protesting for fair compensation.

Background on the Strikes

Nathan Holman, GMB officer for the NHS in Wales, said its members were “not taking a stand against the public” but “a stand against the government”. He said any life-threatening calls – roughly 15% of the total call volume – will still be responded to. “We have data for category one calls from the last time we took this action and the percentage of calls that were responded to nationally increased on strike day because vehicles were not being held [at hospitals],” Mr Holman said.

Ambulance workers in England have also been protesting for fair compensation. The strikes in England have been organized by the GMB and Unison unions. The strikes have been taking place in stages across the country, with different regions going on strike on different days. The strikes have been aimed at putting pressure on the government to address the issue of low pay and poor working conditions.

In Wales, “We’re looking for an inflation-busting pay rise, but any offer we get we want at least the same as what we’ve been offered in Scotland. A thousand pounds or more on top of what we have now.” The Welsh government plans to discuss a one-off payment offer with unions on Thursday, but said anything more would require further funds from Westminster.

Impact on Emergency Services

While the strike started at midnight on Tuesday and lasts until midnight on Wednesday, previously the union made it clear that any member of staff working an overnight shift would not leave a patient and compromise care. Gyles George, an emergency medical technician with the ambulance service in Powys, said, “The majority of staff are doing 12-hour shifts on the front line, some are doing 10 or 11. Even after a 10-hour shift, if you are stuck at a hospital with a patient you feel like you are being emotionally blackmailed to stay with them. You can’t just abandon them and you don’t know what time you are going to get home.”

The Welsh and English Ambulance Services have called on the public to carefully consider how they use its services as the industrial action is expected to have a significant impact on its ability to respond to 999 calls. They have advised the public to only call 999 where there is an immediate risk to life.

Government Response

Wales’ Health Minister Eluned Morgan is due to meet with healthcare unions on Thursday to discuss both a one-off payment, as well as non-pay issues, including agency staffing and staff welfare. In England, the government has said that it is committed to working with the unions to address the issue of pay and working conditions. However, no significant progress has been made so far.

Commenting on the strikes, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said that the public should exercise “common sense” during the Ambulance Strikes, avoiding risky activities. He also added: The focus will be on those life-threatening incidents and ensuring those are addressed, but there will be strain on the rest of the system. Of course, if it is genuinely life threatening, then they should phone 999.”

Final Thought

With strikes across the NHS, transport networks and schools in the coming and recent months, the Government is coming under increasing pressure to act. The minimum service level legislation they will introduce is their approach to this, however Labour have described the plans as unworkable, with Unions roundly condemning them.

With talks seeming to go nowhere, many will be wondering what the short term plan is.

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