UK ambulance workers have staged their biggest strike in decades | Daily News Byte


Thousands of ambulance workers in England and Wales went on strike on Wednesday, walking out on their shifts and joining picket lines to demand pay rises and better working conditions in the biggest labor unrest to hit Britain’s emergency services in decades.

The walkout, an effort by three unions that was expected to involve more than 20,000 workers, is the latest labor strike across a number of industries in Britain in recent weeks as a rising cost-of-living crisis, fueled by double-digit inflation, grips the country. is . On Tuesday, nurses went on strike over pay that hasn’t kept up with inflation, and rail workers and border control workers are set to do the same this week.

In ambulance services, workers have raised the alarm about record delays for patients seeking emergency treatment, and paramedics have pointed to staff shortages and burnout, as well as fears of being too late to help some callers.

Those issues are exacerbated by problems within the National Health Service, where high levels of staff vacancies lead to backlogs and long waits in hospital emergency rooms. Health workers are exhausted after working in extremely stressful conditions during the pandemic, putting their own lives at risk, and amid years of austerity measures that have hollowed out public services since the 2009 financial crisis.

“We just can’t deal with the volume of calls,” said Antonia Gosnell, 53, who has worked as a paramedic for 33 years and was on a picket line in south London on Wednesday afternoon. “They all came out clapping for us during the pandemic, and now there’s no one here to hear what we need.”

Throughout the day, ambulance services were giving priority to the most serious cases. Before the walkout, some hospitals asked people to arrange their own transport to hospitals, including pregnant women going into labour. Patients requiring unnecessary care were advised to look elsewhere for advice, including by telephone or to general practitioners or pharmacists.

With Christmas and year-end celebrations underway, health leaders are urging people to avoid risky behavior on days when services will be pulled. “Don’t get so drunk that you end up with an unnecessary visit to A. & E.,” Stephen Powis, England’s NHS medical director, said in a BBC interview, referring to hospitals’ accident and emergency departments.

Health service management said before the strike that it was “deeply concerned” about potential harm to patients when the service was already under intense pressure.

“This is not something NHS leaders will ever say lightly, but some are now telling us they cannot guarantee patient safety tomorrow,” Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents service organizations in England, said on Tuesday.

The NHS planned to manage the walkout by calling in military personnel and volunteers, increasing call center staffing and, where possible, discharging patients from hospitals to free up beds for the reduced number of ambulances running.

Unions representing ambulance workers blamed the government for the impasse. Workers argue that the pay rise of 1,400 pounds – about 2 to 7 percent – proposed by the government review body amounts to a cut in real terms. Inflation in the country has soared to 11.1 percent in recent months, the highest in four decades.

“None of them want to be here, but if we don’t take a stand now, the ambulance service will just crumble and die,” Unison union general secretary Christina McEnany said from a picket in south London.

In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, NHS England leaders said that on health grounds “it is clear that we have entered dangerous territory.”

“We urge you to do everything you can to reach an agreed solution,” they said. “Otherwise more members of the public will suffer unnecessarily.”

Mr Sunak has condemned industrial action as hopeless and threatened to impose laws that would limit the reach of trade unions.

Despite concerns about the impact of the strike, some people affected by the delay in ambulance services expressed sympathy for the workers.

In north London, a local resident, Robin Lockyer, 65, said on his way to work on Wednesday morning that his father was forced to wait seven hours for an ambulance after breaking his hip recently. “He’s 86 – it was a real shock to him,” Mr Lockyer said. “But I don’t blame the ambulance service,” he added. “I blame the government.”

“The government is taking a strange approach,” Mr Lockyer said. “And I think there will be a lot more action.”

Saskia Solomon Contribution report.


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