Ambulance strike dates announced as Government refuses to open pay talks

Steve-Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social care, receiving treatment from a paramedic

The coordinated walkout by the three main ambulance unions – Unison, GMB and Unite – will affect non-life threatening calls only.

The Unite, Unison and GMB unions have all announced industrial action for Wednesday 21 December in England and Wales

Members of GMB, which represents nearly a third of the 50,000-strong workforce, will then follow that up with another walkout on 28 December.

It comes as Royal College of Nursing members are also preparing to go on strike on 15 and 20 December in parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The impact of the first ambulance walkout will be patchy as Unison, which is the largest union in the sector, only has a strike mandate for half of England’s 10 regional services for the 21 December walkout.

The walkouts will involve paramedics as well as control room staff and support workers, with the military on standby to help out.

More than 10,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales will strike days before Christmas if the Government refuses to open pay talks – the first national ambulance strike in 30 years.

Three unions today announced the dates members will walk out, co-ordinating industrial action for Wednesday 21 December.

Members of the GMB union – who include paramedics, Emergency Care Assistants, call handlers and other staff – will also walk out on Wednesday 28 December after a decade of below-inflation pay awards caused a staffing crisis.

Not all union members at all ambulance trusts backed strike action, with some unions at some services failing to meet strict turnout thresholds set by the Tory government.

While GMB members met the threshold for strikes at nine ambulance services, Unison members met the threshold at five services and Unite met the threshold at three.

At all but one of the regional services spanning England and Wales will see GMB strike action, apart from East of England.

Government to blame for dispute – union

The full extent of the cover striking staff will provide has yet to be decided – detailed negotiations will take place between local ambulance bosses and unions ahead of the walkout.

Under trade union rules, life-preserving care has to be provided so the two highest category calls – covering everything from heart attacks and strokes to major trauma – will still be responded to.

But Matthew Taylor, of the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, said he was worried the action would “undoubtedly” affect patient care and how quickly ambulance services could respond and may even deter people from seeking help.

“The prospect of industrial action over Christmas is very concerning,” he added.

It is part of a wave of strikes across health services, railways and the public sector after NHS staff were offered a pay rise worth as little as 4%, despite soaring inflation.

The strike will happen a day after Royal College of Nursing members stage their second walkout, also over pay.

And RMT members are hurtling towards four days of action next week at train firms – plus a Network Rail walkout from 6pm on Christmas Eve – after rejecting a 4%-a-year pay rise offer.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch admitted services would wind down more quickly than usual on Christmas Eve, and people will have to leave “early” for festive getaways.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Make no mistake, we are now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself.

“Patients’ lives are already at risk but this government is sitting on the sidelines, dodging its responsibility to sort out the crisis that it has created.”

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: “After 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, NHS staff have had enough.

“The last thing they want to do is take strike action but the Government has left them with no choice.

“Health Secretary Steve Barclay needs to listen and engage with us about pay. If he can’t talk to us about this most basic workforce issue, what on Earth is he Health Secretary for?

“The Government could stop this strike in a heartbeat – but they need to wake up and start negotiating on pay.”

Unison health lead Sara Gorton said: “The Government will only have itself to blame if there are strikes in the NHS before Christmas.

“Ambulance staff and their health colleagues don’t want to inconvenience anyone. But ministers are refusing to do the one thing that could prevent disruption – that’s start genuine talks about pay.

“Wages are too low to stop health workers quitting the NHS. As more and more hand in their notice, there are fewer staff left to care for patients.

“The public knows that’s the reason behind lengthy waits at A&E, growing ambulance delays, postponed operations and cancelled clinics.

“Threatened NHS strikes in Scotland were called off because ministers there understand higher wages and improved staffing levels go hand in hand.

“Unfortunately, the penny’s yet to drop for the Westminster government.”

Jason Kirkham, a Unite member and a paramedic in the West Midlands added: “This strike isn’t just about pay – it is to save the NHS. The NHS is crumbling we can’t recruit and retain staff as pay is so low.

“It has got so bad that we have had to open a food bank in my ambulance station.”

Unions are calling for an above inflation pay rise to prevent the exodus of senior staff to other sectors. It comes after a decade of real terms pay cuts.

RPI inflation is currently 12.6% but the Government has handed down a pay award that works out at around a 4% increase on average.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I’m hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff and deeply regret some will be taking industrial action – which is in nobody’s best interests as we approach a challenging winter.

“Our economic circumstances mean unions’ demands are not affordable – each additional 1% pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700 million a year.

“We’ve prioritised the NHS with record funding and accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full to give over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, with those on the lowest salaries receiving an increase of up to 9.3%.

“This is on top of 3% last year when public sector pay was frozen and wider government support with the cost of living.”

“Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes and the NHS has tried and tested plans to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.

“My door remains open to discuss with the unions ways we can make the NHS a better place to work.”

GMB union members

  • South West Ambulance Service: 21st December, 06:00 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • South East Coast Ambulance Service: 21st December, 06:00 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • North West Ambulance Service: 21st December, 00:01 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • South Central Ambulance Service: 21st December, 06:00 – 18:00. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • North East Ambulance Service: 21st December, 00:01 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • East Midlands Ambulance Service: 21st December, 06:00 – 05:59. 28th December, 06:00 – 05:59
  • West Midlands Ambulance Service: 21st December, 00:01 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • Welsh Ambulance Service: 21st December, 00:01 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59
  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service: 21st December 00:01 – 23:59. 28th December, 00:01 – 23:59

UNISON union members

Ambulance crews working for five services in England – London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West – are to go on strike over pay and staffing on Wednesday 21 December, says UNISON.

The strike involving paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew members will run from midday to midnight.

The ambulance workers are to be joined by nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS workers at the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Liverpool University Hospital taking action on December 21.

UNISON is also about to begin reballoting around 13,000 NHS staff working for ten trusts and ambulance services where turnout in the recent strike vote fell just short of the threshold required by law.

Unite union members

More than 1,600 workers at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts will strike on Wednesday 21 December 2022, said Unite.

Unite continues to ballot 10,000 more NHS workers at 38 different employers across England and Wales, with the results expected later this month.

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