Ambulance bosses are begging unions to protect heart attack and stroke patients when paramedics and call handlers go on strike just before Christmas – as MPs warn lives are at risk.
Seriously ill patients could effectively be abandoned and have to take themselves to hospital as a result of the biggest ambulance strike for 30 years, with ten of England and Wales’ 11 paramedic services involved.
The GMB, Unite and Unison unions have confirmed tens of thousands of their members will walk out on December 21 in a row over pay.
But health bosses are pleading with unions not to let heart attack and stroke patients suffer during the industrial action amid fears low-priority patients will be left to suffer in pain.
GMB, Unite and Unison confirmed tens of thousands of their members will walk out on December 21 in a row over pay. Pictured: NHS Ambulance staff outside a hospital in London
The unions have called on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to ‘listen and engage with us about pay’
Ex-nurse Keith Royles (pictured) broke his hip while cutting the grass, but waited seven hours for an ambulance
Patients in categories three, how falls are typically classed, and four are unlikely to be sent an ambulance during the strikes.
But an agreement is still yet to be reached over emergencies posing a risk to life if not treated promptly.
There is also concern about category two patients, who include heart attacks, strokes, sepsis and severe burns.
Documents released following a meeting of London Ambulance Service’s board last week read: ‘At this time the planning assumption is cat 1 and some cat 2 will be protected, but this is yet to be agreed.’
Seven hours waiting for 999 medics
A terminal cancer patient aged 85 waited seven hours on the ground for an ambulance after suffering a fall – despite living opposite a hospital.
Ex-nurse Keith Royles (pictured) broke his hip while cutting the grass.
His daughters called for an ambulance.
With rain falling, neighbours in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, put tarpaulin over Mr Royles on his patio.
They did not want to move him in case it made the injury worse.
His family said paramedics finally arrived but Mr Royles spent ten more hours in the ambulance before he was admitted to Glan Clwyd Hospital.
The Welsh Ambulance Service said it was ‘deeply sorry’.
Meanwhile, an NHS source told The Telegraph: ‘Without a clear agreement that they should be exempt, elderly patients who have called an ambulance following a fall could be left waiting longer or not be responded to at all during the strike period as they wouldn’t typically be included under category one and two calls.
‘We’ve got the system of category one, category two, which says these are the life threatening illnesses – but if it was my mum who lived 70 miles away from me, who called an ambulance on a strike day and I was 70 miles away, the niceties of a category one call would be completely lost on me.’
The strike has been arranged for the day after 100,000 nurses are set to walk out of hospitals, including casualty and cancer wards.
It comes as health bosses were already braced for the toughest winter in the history of the NHS, with emergency services under unprecedented pressure amid bed-blocking and record waiting lists.
The GMB union says more than 10,000 of its paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers will strike for up to 24 hours.
Up to 15,000 Unison members will walk out and up to 5,000 nurses, porters, healthcare assistants and cleaners represented by the union will strike at the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Liverpool University Hospital.
Unite said more than 1,600 of its members will join the action. The only trust unaffected is the East of England Ambulance Service.
The unions want more than the four per cent pay rise they have been given by the Government but the Prime Minister has warned their demands are ‘unaffordable’.
The unions will now meet individual trusts to discuss their requirements for ‘life and limb cover’, meaning they will ensure there are enough staff to offer an emergency-level service. However, plans are also being drawn up for the Army to be drafted in to drive ambulances if there are shortages.
Rachel Harrison, national secretary at the GMB, which has also announced a second day of strike action on December 28, said: ‘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. The Government could stop this strike in a heartbeat – but they need to wake up and start negotiating on pay.’
The strike has been arranged for the day after 100,000 nurses are set to walk out of hospitals, including casualty and cancer wards. Pictured: Nurses striking last month
Tory MP Sir Mike Penning said the workers going on strike were ‘lions being led by dinosaurs’.
He said: ‘Of all the services that shouldn’t be striking, it’s the ambulance staff. They joined the service to save lives, not put them at risk. The unions need to be realistic about what the country can afford to pay them and it’s abhorrent they’re holding people to ransom like this.’
Fellow Conservative MP Bob Stewart said: ‘Putting patient safety at risk and creating this kind of fear that a service people pay taxes for might not be there for them in their hour of need is irresponsible and appalling.’
Unite continues to ballot 10,000 more NHS workers at 38 different employers across England and Wales, with the results expected later this month. The union warned it would extend the strike ballot to even more NHS workers in January as action to improve pay and staffing levels steps up.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that the day of the strike would ‘feel like a weekend or a bank holiday’ but acknowledged the Army could be drafted in.
He said the unions were trying to strike a balance between ensuring emergency care was protected while also making an ‘impact’.
Sara Gorton of Unison said: ‘The Government will only have itself to blame if there are strikes in the NHS before Christmas. Wages are too low to stop health workers quitting the NHS.’ Downing Street said that each additional 1 per cent pay rise for those on ‘Agenda For Change’ contracts – the majority of NHS staff – would cost £700million a year.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are planning to strike on December 15 and 20, with the union demanding a pay rise of 19 per cent.
Miriam Deakin of NHS Providers warned that operations would still probably be disrupted if the RCN cancelled strike action with little notice because of the difficulty of reinstating appointments.
People suffering heart attacks and strokes in some parts of England are already waiting over an hour for an ambulance.
How the ambulance strike might affect you
By Shaun Wooller
Who is going on strike?
Three unions representing tens of thousands of ambulance staff have agreed to coordinate strikes before Christmas.
GMB, Unite and Unison confirmed their members will walk out from nine of England’s ten ambulance services, plus Wales, on December 21. The only NHS ambulance trust unaffected will be East of England.
Ambulance workers represented by GMB will also strike on December 28.
What do ambulance workers earn and what do they want?
The Government says most ambulance staff have received a rise of at least 4 per cent, taking average basic pay to £34,300.
Staff typically have additional earnings worth 37 per cent of basic pay, covering unsocial hours, geographical supplements and overtime. This takes total earnings to around £47,000 per head. Paramedics who are members of the NHS pension scheme also receive a pension contribution worth 20 per cent of their salary.
Unions say the basic salary for a call handler is no more than £23,177 and paramedics earn an average of £29,180. Unite says they want a pay rise ‘in line with the cost of living’. The GMB wants Health Secretary Steve Barclay to ‘get round the table’
What happens now?
NHS ambulance trusts affected by strike action will draw up plans detailing the number of staff they believe they need on in order to provide ‘life and limb’ cover.
These will be presented to unions with details likely to be confirmed over the next week. Unions anticipate the level of cover requested by some trusts could be higher than that provided on some non-strike days, given underlying staff shortages.
Unison, Unite and GMB will agree among themselves which staff do and do not work. The Army may be brought in to drive ambulances if needed.
What if I need to call 999 on a strike day?
Patients dialling 999 may face a longer wait to get through to a call handler but calls will be diverted to other regions if necessary to limit delays.
Calls will be triaged as usual, with unions pledging to respond to ‘life and limb’ calls. Category one calls include ‘life-threatening’ injuries and illnesses, including incidents where a patient’s heart has stopped or they are not breathing.
Category two calls are ‘emergency’ calls, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Which services might not be provided?
Those with less critical illnesses may not receive an ambulance response and could be told to make their own way to hospital or to seek care elsewhere.
Patients who rely on NHS ambulance services to transport them to hospital appointments may also be forced to make alternative travel arrangements.
This Winter of Discontent is designed to kick out the Tories. But history shows it can backfire on Labour
COMMENTARY by Ian Austin
With the cost of living rising, inflation in double digits and a war raging in Ukraine, many of us have been looking forward to battening down the hatches and spending time with family or friends over Christmas.
Yet hard-Left union barons are conspiring to make this the most chaotic, miserable festive season yet — with a coordinated timetable of strikes that threaten to cripple the country.
An estimated two million workers may strike this winter. Between now and Christmas, in a kind of perverse twist on an Advent calendar, there won’t be a single day unaffected by strikes.
It is a new Winter of Discontent for this century and the list of workers going on strike is almost endless.
Yesterday, it was announced that thousands of ambulance staff across most of England and Wales will strike on December 21 — their biggest walkout in 30 years and perhaps the most shocking strike of all. With ambulances around the country already facing devastating delays due to staff shortages, this could make things even worse in the run-up to Christmas.
Yesterday, it was announced that thousands of ambulance staff across most of England and Wales will strike on December 21 — their biggest walkout in 30 years and perhaps the most shocking strike of all
It’s unthinkable that health workers could stand by and watch the ill suffer or possibly die — particularly at this time of year.
Royal Mail workers are also planning to walk out on six strike days during the busiest period for deliveries in the run-up to Christmas.
Bin men and Border Force officials, traffic officers, council workers, cleaners and even coffin makers have all been on strike or are planning industrial action.
Passengers flying from Heathrow hoping for a pre-Christmas getaway have been warned to brace for delays, as ground handlers have voted to strike over pay for three days from December 16.
Even driving examiners across the UK are to embark on a rolling series of walkouts from mid-December to January 2023 — despite the vast backlog of learners waiting to sit their tests, which stood at 500,000 in August.
Yesterday, it was announced that thousands of ambulance staff across most of England and Wales will strike on December 21 — their biggest walkout in 30 years and perhaps the most shocking strike of all. Pictured: Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay
Shall I continue?
On Monday, more than 33,000 firefighters and control-room staff started voting on whether to strike over pay, while weather forecasters from the Met Office are expected to vote for industrial action later this week.
Not to mention the health and safety inspectors and experts studying bird flu and Covid who are set to announce strikes.
It is, frankly, an unholy mess. And despite the Government’s plans to enlist 2,000 Army staff, civil servants and volunteers to fill in various roles including ambulance drivers and firefighters, I doubt they will be able to be trained up sufficiently in time.
How, for example, will the Army be able to operate emergency call centres at such short notice?
Yes, many people are sympathetic to individual demands for higher pay.
But many of these strikes are not genuinely about workers’ rights.
It seems as though some trade unionists are exploiting the higher cost of living to make big pay demands, launch their strikes — and undermine the Government.
Take the railways. Already this year, hard-Left union barons have brought the network to a halt with industrial action multiple times.
Now, we learn that they have recently rejected an eight per cent pay offer that would have averted the agony caused by Christmas strikes. Most people in the private sector would be delighted with an increase like that.
The train union Trots, especially Mick ‘The Grinch’ Lynch from the RMT, seem to revel in causing as much chaos as possible — and this week they have announced even more strikes to run from 6pm on Christmas Eve till 6am on December 27.
To make matters worse, instead of calling on the unions to put an end to Christmas chaos, yesterday Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner even praised Mick Lynch for ‘doing a good job’.
Perversely, she blamed the ‘militant’ Government for the chaos.
What a kick in the teeth for the public who spent billions mothballing the network and saving their jobs during the Covid lockdowns.
And why does the Labour Party refuse to stand up for the workers in businesses such as restaurants and bars, which will lose trade as a result of the train strikes? And what about those who need to get to work in what for some could be their busiest period of the year?
Then there’s the nurses and other NHS staff.
Of course the country values nurses enormously and most of us are grateful for their tireless hard work during the pandemic.
But the Royal College of Nursing is asking the taxpayer for a 19 per cent pay rise.
Everyone knows this is wildly unaffordable. The union bosses must know they will never be granted, setting their members up for strikes.
Junior doctors (meaning anybody up to the level of consultant) already earn up to nearly £60,000, but are now demanding a 26 per cent increase.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Education Union and the teachers’ union the NASUWT are balloting members over strike action, with voting set to close in January.
This one I find particularly egregious. It is nothing short of a disgrace to see headteachers threatening to go on strike. How can school staff threaten to walk out after so many children were hit so hard by the pandemic?
My parents were teachers. They spent their whole careers in state schools, giving kids from ordinary families a great start in life.
But, as I learned when I met teaching unions when I later became a Labour MP, children and their education tend to come second in teaching unions’ concerns.
Instead, moaning about ‘pressure’ and paperwork is usually the priority.
Let’s be clear: however reasonable some pay demands might seem — although don’t forget that higher pay leads to higher inflation, which in turn could actually put people out of work — the unions are striking simultaneously in a direct, concerted campaign against the Government.
It’s a calculated decision designed to inflict the maximum possible damage on ordinary, working people.
Earlier this year, the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, was explicit about it when she warned that unions would co-ordinate strikes to increase their impact. ‘People ask me: will the TUC co-ordinate strike action this winter? And I say, we already are!’ she boasted.
I joined a trade union as soon as I started work in Birmingham in the 1980s.
I’ve always believed in the value of a union as a means of representing its members’ interests.
Unions have a proud history in this country and a firm place in our democracy.
But going on strike should be the last resort — whereas today’s unions threaten it at every turn.
Labour MPs might be rubbing their hands at the problems this will cause the Government. But they should stand up for the public they represent and tell the unions to get back to work.
Will they? Given Angela Rayner’s performance, it doesn’t look very likely. But the party should be wary of where their support for the unions might lead.
The last Winter of Discontent, in 1978-1979, resulted in Jim Callaghan’s Labour government being drummed out of office.
And if Keir Starmer thinks this winter’s disruption will help him convincingly win the next election, he might just be surprised.
Yes, some voters will blame the Government for the strikes.
But others recognise that global forces, from Putin’s war in Ukraine (which has caused a spike in oil and gas prices) to soaring international inflation have, to a large extent, tied ministers’ hands.
Meanwhile, lots of working people, many of them swing voters, will be furious about the disruption caused by all the strikes and will not trust a party they suspect is still in thrall to the unions.
Almost a century ago, in 1926, the TUC called a General Strike over pay and conditions.
It led to 1.7 million workers walking out — but the public backed the government and the unions were defeated.
No one needs to read the history books to know that the massive pay rises unions are demanding must be paid for through higher prices, tax hikes or more borrowing — which could make Britain’s economic situation even worse.
As for the unions themselves, they should be very careful of making life a misery for many of us this Christmas — because ultimately it will be their own cause they are harming.
LORD AUSTIN is the former Labour MP for Dudley North.
How will NHS strikes affect YOU this Christmas, which hospital trusts are affected and what should you do in an emergency? Vital Q&A as 10,000 ambulance staff and 100,000 nurses prepare to walk out over December
Thousands of ambulance workers and other NHS staff will strike on December 21 and 28 in a row over pay, unions have announced.
The GMB, Unison and Unite are co-ordinating industrial action on December 21 across England and Wales after accusing the Government of ignoring pleas for a decent wage rise.
The strike will happen after more than 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing walk out on December 15 and 20.
The GMB said more than 10,000 ambulance workers across nine trusts in England and Wales will strike.
Paramedics, Emergency Care Assistants, call handlers and other staff will also walk out on December 28.
The ambulance strike will affect emergency services across England and Wales on two days
Which ambulance services will be affected by the strike?
More than 10,000 ambulance workers will strike in England and Wales on December 21 and 28.
The ambulance strike will affect: South West Ambulance Service, South East Coast Ambulance Service, North West Ambulance Service, South Central Ambulance Service, North East Ambulance Service, East Midlands Ambulance Service, West Midlands Ambulance Service, Welsh Ambulance Service and Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
What should I do in an emergency?
Unless your emergency is life-threatening, you should avoid calling 999 for an ambulance on the day of the strikes.
You can call 111 instead, where staff can advise you on what to do about your emergency.
If the emergency is serious enough, the 111 operator will direct you to the ambulance service.
However, it is likely 111 will do so less frequently on the strike days than usual.
When should I call 999?
The strike will affect non-life threatening calls only as unions and health bosses insist urgent care will not be affected by any of the strikes this Christmas.
However, the ambulance strike could mean that falls and minor accidents are not responded to by ambulance teams.
When should I call 111?
The NHS recommends calling 111 for general health guidance and advice on illness, and for urgent healthcare that is not life-threatening.
More patients than usual may be directed to the 111 service as only life-threatening calls will be responded to by ambulance services affected by the strike.
Will A&E be affected?
A&E will remain open as hospitals continue to provide urgent care regardless of the strikes over the Christmas period.
However, fewer people will be brought to A&E by ambulances as their crews go on strike.
This could lead to more people walking into A&E themselves, which could put more pressure on some departments as ambulance crews usually coordinate with hospitals to ensure patients are more evenly spread and are taken to the best facilities for their injury.
This map shows the hospitals where the Royal College of Nursing will hold its first strikes over pay on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December
(File Photo) The Royal College of Nursing has already announced a strike on December 15 and 20
The Royal College of Nursing is demanding a 19.2 per cent pay increase for its members and says devastating NHS strikes will go ahead unless ministers enter ‘formal pay negotiations’
Will my GP be affected?
GPs could face an increased workload as more patients visit their practices while ambulances are running a limited service.
The nurses’ strike is also likely to add to the backlog of seven million people waiting for treatment after a GP referral.
When will NHS nurses go on strike?
Around 100,000 nurses are set to walk out in England and Wales on December 15 and 20 as unions seek a pay rise for workers above the level of inflation.
Will hospitals be affected by the nurses’ strike?
Nurses are required by law to maintain a minimum staffing level to keep patients safe.
Therefore, some nurses will be exempt from the strike to provide this minimum level of service.
The exact numbers remaining on the job will be negotiated locally between the RCN and each NHS Trust/Board.
Will pre-arranged operations be affected?
Previous strikes by NHS staff have led to the cancellation of non-emergency ops and appointments.
If your appointment is already scheduled for days where action takes place, it could be cancelled because it is probably not classified as urgent.
Whether an individual appointment is axed or not will depend on if the date falls on a strike action day, and if nurses at the trust are walking off the job.
Another factor is how long the dispute between the Government and the union runs.
Some appointments not on strike days may also be delayed because more urgent procedures cancelled need to be prioritised.
What will the level of care be?
The RCN handbook says nursing provision during the strike should be equal to the skeleton staffing for Christmas Day, although the NHS says it has well-tested procedures to limit disruption.
Which nurses will remain in post?
Emergency nurses in A&E and intensive care will keep working, as will district nurses who help elderly people in the community. Other exemptions will be negotiated at a local level.
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Secretary, said of the ambulance worker strikes: ‘After twelve 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.
‘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 the Health Secretary for?
‘The Government could stop this strike in a heartbeat – but they need to wake up and start negotiating on pay.’
Unison is also set to ballot 10,000 hospital and ambulance staff at 10 NHS trust on strikes once again after a recent vote fell short of the legally-required threshold.
The trusts being balloted include all the remaining ambulance services in England and Wales.
Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, 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.’
Unite said more than 1,600 of its members at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts will join the walkout.
The union said the action is a ‘stark warning’ to the Government that it must stem the ‘crisis’ engulfing the NHS.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: ‘Make no mistake, we are now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself. These strikes are a stark warning – our members are taking a stand to save our NHS from this government.
‘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.
‘Ministers can’t keep hiding behind the pay review body. They know full well it does not address the desperate need to get huge numbers of NHS workers off the breadline.
‘Fail to act now to avert these strikes and the blame will rest firmly at the Government’s door.’
Throughout the strike, Unite said it will maintain essential emergency cover for patients.
Unite continues to ballot 10,000 more NHS workers at 38 different employers across England and Wales, with the results expected later this month.
Senior insiders last week warned that fears the NHS will suffer its worst ever winter are ‘fast becoming reality’.
Six unions — including the RCN, GMB, Unite and Unison — were dragged in for talks with the Health Secretary Steve Barclay (pictured) last month. No deal was struck during the behind-closed-doors discussions, however, with Mr Barclay so far refusing to cave into pay demands
Official figures show 7.1million people in England were in the queue for routine hospital treatment, such as hip and knee operations, by the end of September — the equivalent of one in eight people (red line). The figure includes more than 400,000 people who have been waiting, often in pain, for over one year (yellow bars)
Ambulance performance statistics for October show paramedics took longer to arrive to category one, two and three call outs since records began in 2017. Ambulances took an average of 1 hour, one minute and 19 seconds to respond to category two calls (red bars), such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than three times as long as the 18 minute target
A Freedom of Information request, submitted by the Liberal Democrats, revealed the postcode lottery patients face when calling 999. The figures cover the year to March 2022
Meanwhile, emergency care performance has deteriorated to fresh lows. More than 1,400 A&E attendees were forced to wait in more than 12 hours for care every day in October (yellow bars), while the lowest proportion ever recorded were seen within four hours — the NHS target (red line)
NHS data shows 539 people with influenza were taking up beds on November 27. The figure is 3.9-times higher than the peak logged across the entire season last winter, when a maximum of 138 flu patients were in hospital. This is despite winter pressures just starting to kick-off and cases expected to rise further
Bosses have promised hospital trusts will do all they can to mitigate risks to patients during walk-outs, which could rumble on until May.
But NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard has warned that some ops and diagnostic scans will inevitably have to be cancelled.
Chemotherapy and kidney dialysis could also be postponed. Emergency care won’t be disrupted, bosses have insisted. Senior NHS sources still fear lives will be put at risk, however.
Unions have been discussing co-ordinating NHS strikes for weeks, saying action has to be ‘effective’ or it’s pointless.
Six — including the RCN, GMB, Unite and Unison — were dragged in for talks with the Health Secretary Steve Barclay last month.
No deal was struck during the behind-closed-doors discussions, however.
At the time, GMB, Unite and Unison — which represent up to 470,000 medics — had not announced the results of their ballot.
All three last week confirmed that members have voted to strike in the coming weeks.
The Guardian reports bosses are now thrashing out plans to coordinate their action, with walk-out dates yet to be announced.
It could see hospitals operate a Christmas Day level of service.
No10 is desperate for them to reconsider, however, amid fears that action across the health, transport and mail delivery sectors in the weeks ahead will cause more chaos than the infamous ‘winter of discontent’ in the 1970s.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said: ‘We are concerned about the impact strikes by multiple unions will have on the people of this country as we head into the Christmas period.
‘We recognise that these are challenging economic times but public sector pay awards must be affordable for the taxpayer.’
Mr Barclay has so far refused to cave into pay demands, which amount to up to 19.2 per cent for the RCN.
If ministers agreed to the inflation-busting raise in order to avert more winter chaos, it would see the average nurse’s pay go from £35,600 to £42,400.
Ministers have insisted that their offer of four per cent, of £1,400, is enough.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting last week admitted that his party also wouldn’t be able to meet the pay uplift demand. However, he said he would negotiate with the unions.