Ambulance workers are preparing to stage their latest walkout on Monday as the health secretary insisted she has had “constructive talks” with unions.
Thousands of members of Unison, Unite and the GMB will walk across England and Wales from 7am in an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions, including in the London ambulance service.
Up to 15,000 Unison ambulance workers will strike for the third time in five weeks and will be joined by 5,000 of their NHS colleagues at two hospital trusts in Liverpool.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said further industrial action by ambulance crews was “extremely disappointing” and would “inevitably” lead to disruption of the healthcare service.
The London Ambulance Service warned it would be a “challenging day”, with around half its regular number of ambulances on the road.
Dr John Martin, Deputy Chief Executive of the LAS, said: “On a typical day, we have around 400 ambulances and 50 cars on the road.
“On Monday we will have around half of this, made up of staff who are not striking, doctors from other NHS trusts, military personnel, and striking staff who are responding to life and limb calls from the picket line.
“This contingency cover will allow us to respond to those with the most life-threatening situations.”
Unions have agreed to provide “life and limb cover” for the most urgent calls and Dr Martin has urged life-threatening situations to continue calling 999.
The government is in talks with the unions but Unite boss Sharon Graham claimed on Sunday that pay, the central issue of the dispute, was not on the table.
They said striking NHS staff should be offered a double-digit pay rise and told the government they were “willing to talk about anything, but they won’t talk about pay”.
Mr Barclay issued a statement insisting he had “had constructive talks with unions about the pay process for the coming year for 2023/24” and would continue to negotiate “what is affordable and fair”.
However, unions are calling for a review of the 2022/23 pay award.
Ms Graham accused the government of being unable to negotiate or wanting to privatize the NHS.
She told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday: “They’re not negotiating pay and that’s the problem. The big issue here is about pay. There’s an issue where ambulance workers, nurses, the NHS are saying we need pay. Is.” rise.
“The public is supporting that wage increase as we can see from the polls and we have employers, in this instance the government, whatever they talk about, but they won’t talk about wages.”
She said: “I’m having a conversation with someone at the moment who I don’t think wants a solution, and it’s a real problem.”
But Mr Barclay said: “It is extremely disappointing that some ambulance crews are continuing to take industrial action. While we have contingency plans in place to reduce the risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be further disruption.
“It is vital that people keep coming forward for treatment – calling 999 in life-threatening emergencies and using NHS 111 online, local pharmacies and GP services for non-life-threatening care.
“I have had constructive talks with unions about this coming year’s pay process for 2023/24, and look forward to continuing to talk about what is affordable and fair.”
However, Monday’s action could be dwarfed by a planned walkout on 6 February, which is likely to be the biggest ever strike action by the NHS, if no deal is reached by then.
(tags to translate) Health Secretary