When are the NHS strikes?
Nurses will stage their second day of strike on Tuesday at more than 70 health foundations and organizations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. On Wednesday, three unions, GMB, Unison and Unite, will strike at ambulance trusts across the country. More than 10,000 ambulance workers in the GMB have voted to strike on nine trusts in England and Wales.
Unison’s action will affect five services: London, Yorkshire, the North West, the North East and the South West. Unite action will affect ambulance services in the West Midlands, North West and North East. These will last for 24 hours.
How severe will the impact be?
Concerns center on ambulance strikes. The unions have committed to responding to life-threatening incidents, but exactly which calls will be answered are still being discussed.
Ambulance crews will respond to all Category 1 calls, for conditions such as cardiac arrest, which must be answered within an average of seven minutes. Ministers say it is “likely” that category 2 calls, for serious conditions such as stroke or chest pain, will also be answered by strike teams, but this is unconfirmed. These calls require an average response time of 18 minutes.
The government says “support” will be provided for less serious calls, but those requiring an ambulance are likely to face longer waits or have to find alternative transport.
Services are likely to be hit particularly hard in the North West and North East, the two areas where the three unions representing ambulance workers must take action. It was reported on Saturday that there would only be one manned ambulance at each station in some parts of the northwest, compared to the normal three.
What is the government doing?
The ministers presented a request for military assistance to support the ambulance service last weekend in what is known as Maca, (military assistance to civil authorities).
The Cabinet Office has confirmed that some 600 military drivers will be available, along with 150 members of the armed forces to provide logistical support. It is unlikely that all ambulance services affected by the strike will require military support.
Ministers are also looking at other ways to help those who would normally be transported by ambulance. They are considering block booking of taxis, deployment of St John ambulance vehicles and community support for vulnerable people requiring medical assistance. National Health Service England has advised hospitals to clear beds and prepare for “extensive disruption”.
Should patients continue to call 999 on ambulance strike days?
NHS officials say that regardless of any strike that takes place, it is important that patients in need of urgent medical attention turn up as usual. They warn that ambulances can only respond during an industrial action where there is an “immediate risk to life.” Anyone who needs urgent care but is not life threatening should call 111 or use NHS 111 online.
What additional action is planned?
Ambulance workers who are members of the GMB will also go on strike on Wednesday 28 December. Workers include paramedics, emergency care attendants and call handlers. This week, the RCN is due to announce new strike dates in January if the government does not respond to its demands after Tuesday’s action day. Unions continue to vote healthcare workers for more industrial action in the new year.