Why NHS ambulance staff in North East are going on strike, pay … – Chronicle Live

North East Ambulance Trust paramedics, call handlers, emergency care assistants and other staff are set to strike on Wednesday December 21
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Ambulance staff including paramedics and call handlers in the North East are due to go on strike.
Thousands of workers at ambulance trusts in different parts of England are taking part in the strike, which involves members of three unions: Unite, GMB and Unison.
The North East Ambulance Service, which serves Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, County Durham, Northumberland and Teesside is one of the trusts with staff due to take part.
Read more: Ambulance workers announce strike dates in December in pay row
Paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff are set to join the walkout on Wednesday December 21.
Ambulance service staff are going on strike in parts of England, including the North East, in a dispute over pay. Unite described salaries in recent years as a "12-year assault on pay" and the most recent offer under the Agenda for Change scale amounts to a real terms pay cut.
The Agenda for Change Pay Scale, a system that has been in place since 2004, offers most staff a £1,400 pay rise, which works out as a total increase of 4.75% to the NHS pay bill. As that's a flat rate for many bands, the percentage increase to individual employee's salary depends on what they already get paid. GMB and Unite quote the rise as four per cent in most cases compared to the Consumer Price Index which said inflation stood at 11.1% in October.
The unions argue the four per cent offer is unfair and it leads to staff leaving their roles, placing a further strain on those who stay and contributing to longer waiting times for patients.
Unite says: "The workers, including paramedics and emergency call handlers, are angry over the four per cent NHS Agenda for Change pay award, which was imposed last month, and falls well short of the real cost of living."
The imposed award meant most staff received a little over £100 per month more in their pay packet, Unite says.
Jason Kirkham, a Unite member and paramedic, 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.”
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Secretary, said: “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.
“[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 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 [to] 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.”
The percentage pay increase staff get depends on what they are currently getting paid, as it is a flat rate of of £1,400. The Department for Health and Social Care points out that some lower paid staff will get an increase of 9.3%.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve 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 one per cent pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700ma 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%.
“This is on top of the three 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.”
The DHSC says to continue ringing 999 for emergencies. For non-life-threatening conditions, use NHS 111 services. Ambulances will still respond to 999 calls.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said there is “still a question” over whether ambulance services will cover all emergency callouts during strikes.
Unions have said they will respond to life-threatening incidents – known as a category one call – when they strike on December 21 in a row over pay.
Mr Barclay said officials will meet to discuss coverage of category two callouts – which cover heart attacks, strokes, epilepsy and burns.
But he said “the indication from the trade unions” is that conditions like heart attacks will be covered.
He told Times Radio: “We’ve got further talks with the officials tomorrow on what are called the derogations – which bits of the service that they will offer.
“They’ve said that they will continue to offer life-threatening service, so that’s the 'cat ones'.
“There’s a question in terms of whether they will cover all the 'cat twos' – those are the emergency responses to things like heart attacks and stroke – so it is hugely important that those are also covered.”
He said the category three and four calls are “still very important”, adding: “Clearly, if those are not covered because of the strikes, that places huge pressure.
“Of course, we can look at what contingency plans we can put in place, but they’re never going to cover the same amount as having 3,000 ambulances on the day, which is roughly what we have on a typical day.
“There is a risk if we can’t get ambulances to people.”
He told Sky News that falls tend to come under a category three emergency and “at the moment the trade unions are saying those things wouldn’t be covered” but “the indication from the trade unions” is that conditions such as heart attacks will be covered.
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