Ambulance workers announced a series of fresh strikes today as the row over pay intensifies.
Unite will stage ten further walk-outs over the coming weeks across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and even more dates could be confirmed soon.
Among the new dates is February 6, which has been described as the NHS’s ‘D-Day’. It is when thousands of other 999 workers and nurses are also expected to walkout. It is expected to be the biggest strike action in the health service’s 74- history.
Emergency medics belonging to the union are already set to walk out on Monday, as its bitter row with the Government remains deadlocked.
Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Rather than act to protect the NHS and negotiate an end to the dispute, the Government has disgracefully chosen to demonise ambulance workers.
General Secretary Sharon Graham (centre in black gloves) said ambulance staff had been ‘demonised’ by the Government. Pictured: Ambulance workers on the picket line in Coventry last month
The calendar shows planned strike dates among NHS staff in the coming months. Nurses are on strike on January 18 and 19 and return to picket lines on February 6 and 7. The next ambulance strike is on January 23, followed by February 6 and 20 and March 6 and 20. NHS physiotherapists hold their first strike action on January 26 and then again on February 9
When are the new Unite ambulance strike dates?
Thursday January 26: Northern Ireland
Monday 6 February: West Midlands, North East, East Midlands, Wales, North West
Thursday 16 February: Northern Ireland
Friday 17 February: West Midlands, Northern Ireland
Monday 20 February: North East, East Midlands, Wales
Wednesday 22 February: North West
Thursday 23 February: Northern Ireland
Friday 24 February: Northern Ireland
Monday 6 March: West Midlands, North East, East Midlands, Wales, North West
Monday 20 March: West Midlands, North East, East Midlands, Wales, North West
‘Ministers are deliberately misleading the public about the life and limb cover and who is to blame for excessive deaths.
‘Our members faithfully provide life and limb cover on strike days and it’s not the unions who are not providing minimum service levels.
‘It’s this Government’s disastrous handling of the NHS that has brought it to breaking point, and as crisis piles on crisis, the Prime Minister is seen to be washing his hands of the dispute. What a disgrace. What an abdication of leadership.’
The newly-announced strike action will involve Unite’s members in the North West, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Dates for local action include January 26 — when physiotherapists are also striking — as well as February 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24.
Unite members will also strike on February 20 and March 6 and 20, when ambulance members of the GMB union are already walking out.
But the most disruptive addition is that planned for February 6, when thousands of members of the RCN will also stage walkouts, along with GMB ambulance staff, including paramedics, call handlers and emergency care assistants.
Health leaders have described the unprecedented joint walk-out as ‘hugely concerning’, while a Tory MP has warned it will ‘undoubtedly’ lead to ‘unnecessary deaths’.
Although the most seriously ill patients and 999 callers have been able to access swift treatment and transport on previous strike days this winter, others have been left with no choice but to make their own way to hospital.
Unite said that, as with previous strikes, its representatives will be working at regional level to ensure that emergency life and limb cover will be in place during the action.
Other derogations will ensure that patients needing life-saving treatment, such as renal care and cancer treatment, will be transported to their appointments.
The Government has been accused of ‘disastrous handling of the NHS that has brought it to breaking point’ by unions
NHS England data shows ambulance handover delays have fallen to their lowest level this winter. Less than one in four (23 per cent) of ambulance patients waited 30 minutes or longer last week before being handed to A&E teams, down from 36 per cent a week earlier (red line)
Just one in ten ambulance patients (9 per cent) waited more than one hour to be handed over to A&E teams — another record low this winter down from 19 per cent in the previous week
NHS ambulance data for December shows that 999 callers classed as category two — which includes heart attacks, strokes, burns and epilepsy — waited 1 hour, 32 minutes and 54 seconds, on average, for paramedics to arrive (shown in red bar). This is five-times longer than the 18-minute target (shown in green line). This is despite category 2 cases falling slightly to 368,042 (shown in yellow bar)
But NHS bosses are already scrambling to put together contingency plans to control the coordinated action in just 17 days’ time.
It is unclear what these plans will involve.
But mitigation measures used so far include bringing in the Army to drive ambulances and hospitals asking visitors to ease pressures, such as by helping them feed their loved ones at mealtimes.
GMB called on ministers to ‘talk pay now’ and warned a ‘proper pay offer’ is the ‘only way’ to resolve the ongoing dispute. It claimed the ‘cold, dead hands of No 10 and 11 Downing Street’ are stopping negotiations.
Pat Cullen, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, which is coordinating the nurses’ strike, said the medics feel ‘totally heartbroken’ at going on strike but have no choice.
Unions yesterday threatened to continue striking until Easter unless the Government caves in to their demands for bigger pay rises. They are all seeking an inflation-busting pay rise.
The RCN is calling for an 18.4 per cent pay rise — based on the current rate of inflation. It would see the average nurses’ salary go from £37,000 to £43,800.
But the union has repeatedly said it would meet ministers in the middle, which would see the average salary increase to £40,400.
The Government has insisted its offer of around 4 per cent, or £1,400, is all it can afford. The deal, awarded last year, was backed by the NHS Pay Review Body.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned a 10 per cent pay rise is ‘unaffordable’ and would take £3.6billion away from ‘essential’ NHS services where investment is needed to tackle the backlog of more than 7million people in England.
Onay Kasab, a Unite official, today said: ‘The resolution to this dispute is in the Government’s hands.
‘This dispute will only be resolved when it enters into proper negotiations about the current pay dispute.
‘The Government’s constant attempts to kick the can down the road and its talk about one-off payments, or slightly increased pay awards in the future, is simply not good enough to resolve this dispute.’
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive Pat Cullen joins RCN members on the picket line outside University College Hospital on January 19
Nurses striking at University College London Hospital on Euston Road on January 19
Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on picket lines on January 19
The RCN is calling for an 18.4 per cent pay rise based on the current rate of inflation
Nurses went on strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week to demand more pay
Thousands of nurses across England went on strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week, while around 1,000 ambulance workers in Wales also walked out on Thursday.
Health chiefs have warned of the damage that the long-running disputes are causing to the NHS.
Thousands more hospital appointments and operations will be cancelled over the next few months in response to reduced capacity on strike days.
And the loss of ambulance workers will lead to long delays or some patients getting no ambulance sent to them at all.
It comes as unions are set to meet again with Education Secretary Gillian Keegan today for talks in a bid to avert teacher strikes.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said there has been a reluctance in England to talk about pay compared with Wales, where there is a Labour government in power.
He told Sky News: ‘We met with the Secretary of State for Education in England this week. We also yesterday met with the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Wales.
‘And as an English teacher, I do a kind of compare and contrast because I think what we got with the Education Secretary was someone who I think tribally sees unions as part of the problem and was reluctant to talk about what we think is the key issue, which is pay. How do you recruit great graduates to choose this profession?
‘And what we saw, I think, in Wales with the Cabinet Secretary was somebody who opened by saying “this is the beginning of a negotiation around pay”. It was much more direct because of the social partnership between the government there.’
Of the talks in England, he said it does feel like there has been a step forward in terms of the frequency of talks.
He said: ‘It’s good in one sense that we’ve got six hours of talks. That’s a long time, I have to say, six hours of talks where pay is the number one issue on the agenda. That feels to me like it is a step forward.’