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Only call an ambulance for emergency, as crew begin strike that ‘will bring even MORE disruption’

The public has been urged to avoid calling 999 as today’s ambulance strike will leave the health service in an even worst position than the December walkouts. 

Up to 25,000 paramedics and support staff – including call handlers – will walk out across the country for the second time this winter in an ongoing dispute over pay.  

NHS managers expressed concern that the new wave of walkouts would cause more ‘significant disruption’ than December strikes, leaving the health service in ‘an even more precarious position’.

Union leaders have promised life and limb cover but government sources have expressed concerns about a lack of agreement over emergency care.  

Unions have promised life and limb cover during the strikes but government sources said they were concerned over a lack of agreement about emergency care

Miriam Deakin, interim deputy CEO of NHS Providers, said trust leaders were 'braced for another day of significant disruption'

Miriam Deakin, interim deputy CEO of NHS Providers, said trust leaders were ‘braced for another day of significant disruption’

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Sources said that a lack of agreement on contingency planning was concerning and could be included in the minimum-service legislation the government is considering. 

This 24-hour walkout will involve paramedics, drivers and call handlers, raising fears more patients could die while waiting for help.

Callers are likely to face longer waits for 999 and 111 calls to be answered and there will be far fewer ambulances on the road.

The NHS has drafted doctors into control rooms to help identify the most needy patients as bosses are forced to ration ambulances.

Some callers will be told to make their own way to hospital, potentially using a bus or taxi.

And Britons will face a postcode lottery of emergency care as unions have refused to commit to a national level of service, with deals done locally instead. 

Miriam Deakin, interim deputy CEO of NHS Providers, said her members were worried because Unison was also telling call handlers and ambulance dispatchers, who remained in work during the previous strike, to walk out.

‘With more staff expected to strike this time, the NHS is in an even more precarious position,’ she said.

‘Since the last strikes, delays transferring patients from ambulances to hospitals have got worse, as pressure across the whole of the NHS increases.

‘Trust leaders are working hard to minimise the impact on patients and to support staff during the industrial action – but they are braced for another day of significant disruption and knock-on effects.’

Ms Deakin also said that it was deeply disappointing that pay negotiations had failed to stop another round of strikes. 

Downing Street described the decision as ‘deeply regrettable’, adding: ‘That is understandably concerning to the public.’

And Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Today’s ambulance strike is an unwelcome return to unnecessary disruption and comes at a time when the NHS is already under huge pressure from Covid and flu. 

‘While we have contingency plans in place, including support from the military, community first responders and extra call handlers, to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be some disruption for patients with fewer ambulances on the road.’ 

Steve Barclay said: ‘Today’s ambulance strike is an unwelcome return to unnecessary disruption.' Talks between ministers and union bosses were unsuccessful on Monday and further health service strikes are planned

Steve Barclay said: ‘Today’s ambulance strike is an unwelcome return to unnecessary disruption.’ Talks between ministers and union bosses were unsuccessful on Monday and further health service strikes are planned

Unison has balloted 15,000 of its members who are striking in London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West. 

Up to 10,000 ambulance workers who are members of the GMB are expected to strike in areas including the South West, South East coast, North West, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Wales.

Members who are striking will stagger their walkouts, which each striker not working for between six and 12 hours, to allow trusts to maintain a critical level of cover. 

Ambulances will respond to category one incidents, which include where a patient is not breathing or their heart has stopped, but may not travel to patients having heart attacks, strokes, burns or falls. 

Daniel Elkeles, chief executive of London Ambulance Service, said he expected only half of the capital’s ambulances will be available. 

He added: ‘It is still really, really busy in the NHS and hospitals are really, really full so I would just ask the public to be really helpful again tomorrow and only phone us if they have a life and limb-threatening emergency.’

Ben Holdaway, director of operations at the East Midlands Ambulance Service, said: ‘Where possible, our 999 control rooms will carefully assess and prioritise an ambulance response for those who need it most, and this may only be where there is a threat to life.’

Yorkshire Ambulance Service said crews will still be able to respond during the strike, ‘but this will only be where there is an immediate risk to life.’

In the North West, ambulance bosses urged the public to ensure ambulances are available for life-threatening cases, with other patients likley to be asked to ‘take alternative transport, such as a taxi or get a lift from family or friends’. 

Business Secretary Grant Shapps accused ambulance unions of behaving in a way that was not acceptable in a ‘civilised society’.

He said: ‘I don’t think any civilised society should have a situation where we can’t get agreement to, for example, have an ambulance turn up on a strike day for the most serious of all types of ailments.’

Grandmother, 73, reveals how she ‘begged’ for an ambulance as her husband suffered a heart attack 

Rob Weekley had been suffering indigestion-like symptoms in the days leading up to January 4, before he had a heart attack that morning at his home in Barry, south Wales.

He desperately woke his wife of 43 years, Lesley, at just after 2am by tapping her on the shoulder and asking for tablets, feeling ‘clammy and freezing cold’.

Before they went to bed, Lesley insisted she would take him to A&E the following morning, but her husband was reluctant due to the well-documented long waiting times.

Lesley, 73, who works in an ITU department at University Hospital of Wales, said: ‘I don’t remember if I said the words ‘heart attack’ when I first called 999, but I knew he had all of the symptoms and I kept repeating the symptoms to the call handlers. 

Rob Weekley (pictured with wife Lesley) had been suffering indigestion-like symptoms in the days leading up to January 4, before he had a heart attack that morning at his home in Barry, south Wales

Rob Weekley (pictured with wife Lesley) had been suffering indigestion-like symptoms in the days leading up to January 4, before he had a heart attack that morning at his home in Barry, south Wales

Between 2.18am and 3.32am, Lesley phoned for an ambulance on five occasions and says she told call handlers that her husband was deteriorating quickly

Between 2.18am and 3.32am, Lesley phoned for an ambulance on five occasions and says she told call handlers that her husband was deteriorating quickly

‘I couldn’t get a pulse, which I was told later by the paramedics was because his blood pressure was so low and his body was shutting down.’

Between 2.18am and 3.32am, Lesley phoned for an ambulance on five occasions and says she told call handlers that her husband was deteriorating quickly. 

When paramedics arrived at around 4am, she says they told her he would have probably survived the heart attack had they been dispatched following Lesley’s first call.

Detailing her frantic calls with the ambulance service, Lesley said: ‘When I first rang 999 they said they had no ambulances available. I explained Rob’s symptoms, and was told to give him four aspirin tablets to chew. 

‘He then began vomiting and so I was told not to give him the tablets and that a clinician would ring me back, and if he deteriorated further to call again.

‘At 2.36am I called again, and told the call handler that he had collapsed when he tried to get off the bed to go to the toilet. 

‘The call handler told me to give him the aspirin tablets and call again if things worsened and again I was told they would give the details immediately to the clinician and they would ring me.

‘At 2.55am I rang again and told them he had worsened and that while he was breathing his pulse had stopped. 

‘He told me he was lightheaded and had a tingling sensation. I rang again at 3.11am and said the pulse was still not there, but had the same response.

‘I rang again at 3.32am and this time I begged for an ambulance, and then he stopped breathing while I was on the phone. They told me an ambulance was then on its way with blue lights and sirens. 

‘I dragged him to the floor. I remember he hit his head slightly on the beside table. I started doing CPR as fast as I could, counting with the person on the phone.

‘I’m not sure when the paramedics arrived in the end. I think I was performing CPR for around 20 minutes, I was exhausted and my hands had started to become slippery because I was sweating so much. 

‘After 10 minutes of counting with the call handler I could hardly keep going. I just remember saying: ‘I can’t keep doing it’.’

Rob – a retired architect from Rhoose, was ‘loved and well-respected’ in Barry and further afield, especially in music and rugby circles. 

He captained Barry Rugby Club and then played for London Welsh after moving near London for 25 years to live with Lesley, who is from Kent. 

London Welsh paid its own tribute to Rob on its social media channels, saying he will be ‘sorely missed’. Both clubs held a minute’s silence in his memory at their fixtures at the weekend.

Lesley said: ‘I’ve felt numb ever since it happened. Now I’m starting to get angry about what has happened. Rob was an extremely fit man. 

‘He’d never needed to go to the GP, he’d never been ill. I feel robbed that he’s gone. We hadn’t even sorted life insurance for him.’ 

Liam Williams, executive director of quality and nursing at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: ‘We are really sorry to hear about such a distressing incident, and we send our deepest condolences to Mrs Weekley and her family.’ 

Mr Williams added that the service would be in touch with Mrs Weekley and were investigating the incident and how to improve its services.  

But Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that striking staff had not hesitated to leave picket lines to save lives during the walkout in December.  

‘Last time, staff didn’t hesitate to leave picket lines when someone’s life was in danger.

‘After a decade of refusing to bring in minimum staffing levels, it’s ironic that the government is only prepared to do so during a strike.

The union chief added: ‘Every other day of the year, ambulance crews are stuck queuing for hours outside A&E departments and hospital staff are rushed off their feet. But the government isn’t interested in minimum staffing levels then.’  

The service saw a lower number of calls than normal during the last walkout on December 21.

NHS medical director for secondary care Dr Vin Diwakar said that patients who needed emergency care should still call for help. 

‘This means continuing to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies as well as using 111 online for other health needs, where you will receive clinical advice on the best next steps to take.’

Up to 25,000 GMB and Unison ambulance workers are striking today after rejecting a 4.75 per cent pay increase

It is currently taking up to three times longer than normal to respond to emergency calls

The walkout comes after ambulance staff along with other NHS workers were offered a pay rise averaging 4.75%. 

All were guaranteed an increase of at least £1,400 a year – more than 7% for the lowest paid.

Unions want an above-inflation pay rise, saying low pay is contributing to vacancy rates and pressure on the ambulance service. 

NHS unions met with health secretary Steve Barclay on Monday following a weekend of talks between minsters and NHS leaders about ongoing pressures on the health service.

It is currently taking up to three times longer than normal to respond to emergency calls.  

Other health service strikes are planned, with the Royal College of Nursing set to walkout on Wednesday and Thursday next week, causing further disruption. 

Junior doctors are voting on whether to walkout in a historic 72-hour strike in March, with demands of a jaw-dropping 30 per cent pay increase. 

Physiotherapists are expected to announce strike dates later this week despite Monday’s talks.  

Ambulance staff in Northern Ireland have also been striking and in Scotland the unions have a mandate for action but no dates have yet been set.  

Is YOUR ambulance service on strike? 

Unison has balloted 15,000 of its members who are striking in London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West. 

Up to 10,000 ambulance workers who are members of the GMB are expected to strike in areas including the South West, South East coast, North West, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Wales.

Is your ambulance service striking? 
Service GMB Unison  Areas affected   
North East Ambulance Service YES YES  Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham, Darlington and Teesside   
Yorkshire Ambulance Service  YES  YES  East Riding of Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire   
North West Ambulance Service  YES  YES  Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and Glossop (Derbyshire)   
West Midlands Ambulance Service  YES  NO  Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Coventry, Birmingham and the Black Country   
East Midlands Ambulance Service  YES  NO  Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland   
South Western Ambulance Service  YES  YES  Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Swindon   
South Central Ambulance Service  YES  NO  Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire   
South East Coast Ambulance Service  YES  NO  Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, West Sussex, Kent, Surrey, and North East Hampshire   
London Ambulance Service  NO  YES  London   
East of England Ambulance Service  NO  NO  Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire   
Isle of Wight NHS Trust  NO  NO  Isle of Wight   
Welsh Ambulance Service  YES  NO  Wales   
Scottish Ambulance Service  NO  NO  Scotland   
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service  NO  NO  Northern Ireland   

Source: Unison and GMB

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