Patient appointments in North Wales could be canceled as nurses’ strike threatens to collapse the NHS, and more strikes are now planned to affect the ambulance service.
The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and the Welsh Ambulance Service say they are working with the unions but have admitted appointments could be canceled before Christmas.
While the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) plans to strike on December 15 and 20, Unison, which also represents nurses, has yet to give a date.
With higher numbers of patients being admitted to hospital over the busy festive period, rising flu and COVID levels could also add to the pressure on the board of health.
Angela Wood is the executive director of nursing and midwifery at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and said the NHS would focus on essential services.
“We continue to work with the RCN and other union partners to implement extensive procedures and processes that focus on maintaining essential services,” he said.
“Our priority is to keep patients safe during any industrial action and to ensure that emergency services continue to operate.
“Patients will be contacted directly if their procedure or outpatient appointment will be rearranged. If patients have not heard from us, they should attend their procedure or appointment as planned.”
The ambulance service is already struggling in North Wales with reports of slow response times and vehicles parked outside hospitals.
Angie Lewis is director of workforce and organizational development at the Welsh Ambulance Service (WAST) and said members of her staff were also planning to go on strike.
“We knew that union partners were launching an industrial action vote as part of a national pay dispute affecting NHS organizations across the country.
“Although UNISON Cymru members did not reach the required turnout in the last vote, we have learned that there is a strike mandate by GMB Union members in WAST, as well as action before a strike.
“We are also aware of the dates of the RCN strikes and will be working closely with them.
“We look forward to continuing dialogue with union partners as plans progress to ensure that the safety of our patients is maintained to the extent possible.”
Helen Whyley, director of RCN Wales, said nurses were on strike not only to improve pay, but also to try to push for better conditions for their patients.
“The decision to strike has not been taken lightly and has come to demand changes where no other solution has been possible,” he said.
“Our members have spoken about what is an incredibly difficult decision both professionally and personally. The result of this vote shows the extent to which nursing staff put the safety of their patients above all else.
“Over the last few weeks of our campaign, I have been overwhelmed by the support our members and the public have shown.
“I have visited hospitals and workplaces all over Wales. I’ve heard firsthand about nurses struggling to pay their household bills, about the extra hours they’ve worked for free to subsidize the NHS, the shifts they’ve worked without breaks. They have told me of their constant concern and desperation for the safety of their patients due to understaffing.
“Currently there is no escape for staff, worry and guilt for their patients at work, worry and guilt for their families at home. This is not sustainable. Many have told me that they cannot continue in their beloved profession without change.
“The message is loud and clear. Enough is enough. It is time to take decisive action against a spiraling employment crisis that is endangering the lives of patients and disregarding the well-being of nursing staff.”
Unison was contacted for comment.
By Richard Evans – BBC Local Democracy Reporter