NHS strikes threaten to cause 'worst crisis in its history' as … – iNews

The NHS is “facing the worst crisis in its history” as thousands of ambulance workers and other health service staff join nurses going on strike this month.
Heart attack and stroke patients are likely to face even longer waits for paramedics as more than 10,000 ambulance staff across nine trusts in England and Wales walk out on 21 December.
The GMB, Unison and Unite are co-ordinating industrial action after accusing the Government of ignoring pleas for an above-inflation pay rise. The strike will happen a day after members of the Royal College of Nursing stage their second walkout, also over pay.
Paramedics, Emergency Care Assistants, call handlers and other staff will also walk out, on 28 December, the unions announced on Tuesday.
GMB representatives will now meet individual trusts to discuss requirements for life-and-limb cover. Category 1 emergency calls, where an immediate response to a life threatening condition, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest, should be covered. However, category 2 calls, which cover “serious conditions” such as heart attack and stroke patients, are likely to be affected by the walkouts.
The NHS target is to respond to 90 per cent of category 2 999 calls in 40 minutes, but latest figures show the average response time is now over an hour as patients already face record waits for ambulances. Meanwhile, the NHS in England has more than 133,000 vacancies.
Opening Labour’s Opposition Day Commons debate on the NHS workforce, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said people no longer expect the health service to help them in an emergency.
He said: “Seven million people are waiting for NHS treatment and they are waiting longer than ever before; 400,000 patients have been waiting more than a year. Heart attack and stroke patients are waiting an hour for an ambulance on average when every minute matters – 24 hours in A&E isn’t just a TV programme, it is the grim reality facing patients in an emergency. Behind those statistics, people are being held back from living their lives, people forced to give up work because they can’t stand the pain.
“Young people still bearing the scars of lockdown unable to get the mental health support they need to step into adulthood. Families losing loves for no other reason than the NHS was unable to treat them in time.”
He added: “It [the NHS] has now fallen over. For the first time in the history of the NHS, people no longer feel certain when they phone 999 or arrive in A&E that they will be seen in time.
“It’s the first time in our country’s history that people have not felt confident that emergency medicine will be there for them when they need it. The Government… sent the NHS into the pandemic with 100,000 staff shortages. They spent a decade disarming the NHS before sending it into the biggest fight it’s ever faced.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said his “door is open” to meet nursing union officials ahead of strikes later this month. The made the offer as he faced suggestions from Labour that he was “using nurses as a scapegoat to avoid the blame” for the difficult winter facing the NHS.
GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison 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.
“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.”
Unite said more than 1,600 of its members at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts would join the walkout.
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.”
GMB members will strike at:
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
Yorkshire Ambulance Service
Jason Kirkham, a Unite member and paramedic in the West Midlands, said: “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.”
Unite said it would maintain essential emergency cover for patients throughout the strike. It continues to ballot 10,000 more NHS workers at 38 different employers across England and Wales, with the results expected later this month.
Ambulance crews in Unison working for five services in England – London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West – will strike. Unison said its strike, involving paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew members, will run from noon to midnight.
The ambulance workers are to be joined by Unison nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS workers at two Liverpool hospitals, who will also take action that day.
The strike at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Liverpool University Hospital starts at 7.30am on Wednesday, 21 December and ends 24 hours later.
Unison is also about to begin reballoting around 13,000 staff working for 10 trusts and ambulance services where turnout in the recent strike vote fell just short of the threshold required by law.
Unison’s head of health 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 ambulances delays, postponed operations and cancelled clinics.”
Industrial action in Scotland has been called off while an improved pay offer from the Scottish Government is put to health union members.
Trust leaders in the rest of the UK continue to plan and prepare for strikes and said the announcement of co-ordinated action by the GMB, Unison and Unite underlined the “sheer urgency” of the need to find a solution to avert them.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Leaders across the NHS of course understand how strongly ambulance staff, including 999 call handlers, ambulance technicians, paramedics and their colleagues working for ambulance services feel and why they’ve got to this point: below-inflation pay awards amid the rising cost of living, severe staff shortages, rising operational pressures and ever-increasing workloads have all taken their toll.
“There must be no delay in getting down to serious, meaningful negotiations to end this dispute before it escalates still further.”
Mr Barclay said: “NHS workers do an incredible job caring for our loved ones and it is disappointing some will be taking industrial action, ahead of a challenging winter. The economic circumstances mean unions’ demands are not affordable – each additional 1 per cent pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700m a year.
“We’ve prioritised the NHS with record funding and accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendations 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 per cent.
“This is on top of the 3 per cent award last year when wider public sector pay was frozen and on top of the wider government support to help with the cost of living. Our priority is to ensure emergency services continue to operate for those who need it and limit disruption, particularly at a time when NHS services are under huge pressure due to the impact of Covid. People should continue to use NHS 111 online for urgent healthcare advice and call 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency.”
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