Health chiefs have warned they cannot guarantee patient safety as ambulance workers prepare to strike on Wednesday amid a rise in “critical incidents” across the NHS.
The NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, bodies representing healthcare organizations in England and Wales, have written to Rishi Sunakthe prime minister, to warn of the risk to patients and urge him to reopen wage negotiations to prevent further action.
Sunak and Steve Barclay, the health secretary, have refused to discuss after accepting the recommendations of the independent wage review body this year. Healthcare workers were given an average raise of about 4 percent.
Unions Unison, GMB and Unite call for wage increases to match inflationand more than 10,000 ambulance workers are expected to go on strike this week.
The new wave of industrial action comes as thousands of nurses, represented by the Royal College of Nursing, staged the second of two planned 12-hour strikes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told the BBC world in one: “We never want to alarm people, but we’ve gotten to the point where our leaders feel it’s necessary to say they can’t guarantee patient safety, they can’t prevent risks as these strikes unfold.”
Taylor suggested that pragmatism was needed on both sides in the face of the daunting challenges facing the NHS. He said that if the government was not willing to negotiate “then industrial action will take place,” adding: “If industrial action takes place, then there will be risk, there will be harm to patients.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Will Quince, health minister, urged the public to avoid “any risky activity” during ambulance staff strikes in England and Wales on Wednesday.
He spoke as several ambulance trusts across the country declared “critical incidents,” a status invoked when services risk being overwhelmed.
The London Ambulance Service said it was “prioritizing our sickest and most seriously injured patients”, while the North East Ambulance Service said more than 200 people had faced “significant delays” in the arrival of ambulances.
Meanwhile, the South East Coast Ambulance Service highlighted “a period of over a week of sustained pressure on our 999 and 111 services, which has significantly impacted our ability to respond to patients.”
Barclay met with ambulance unions on Tuesday, when he was expected to urge workers to honor their commitment to respond to life-threatening emergency calls amid warnings that those with urgent conditions will have to go to hospital. by their own means.
Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said the unions had agreed with the ambulance trusts to provide coverage for patients at severe risk. These agreements included “fail-safe positions” in case of “major incidents such as attacks or multiple chain accidents”.
He warned that the strikes could escalate if ministers did not agree to the discussions, noting that Unison had limited its action on Wednesday to 12 hours and only called road crews, rather than call officers, for example.
“We really, really hope tomorrow’s action can be canceled with a commitment to raise wages and serious genuine talks with unions, but if it goes ahead tomorrow there is likely to be further escalation in the new year,” he added.
Speaking at the health and social care select committee on Tuesday, Julian Redhead, national clinical director of urgent and emergency care at NHS England, argued that even before the strike began, demand for emergency services had increased by ” phenomenal grades.”
But Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, defended the timing of the ambulance worker strikes, arguing that staff were experiencing “stress, burnout, burnout.” She accused the government of “hiding” behind the independent pay body’s recommendations that more than a million NHS workers receive a £1,400 pay increase.
“What we are asking the government to do is talk to us, make us an offer that we can take to our members because our members don’t want to go on strike,” he added. “They have been forced to do this.”