Striking ambulance staff ‘really concerned about public safety’

Ambulance workers are staging strikes across England and Wales because they “really care about public safety”, picket line workers have said.

Staff have warned patients are suffering as staff leave en masse over poor pay and conditions.

They warned of patients dying “all the time” because paramedics cannot get to them or do not receive treatment in a timely manner.

Paramedic Katie Nelson described feeling “down and depressed” at the end of each shift.

Speaking from the GMB union picket line at Donnington Ambulance Station of the West Midlands Ambulance Service near Telford in Shropshire, the 35-year-old told the PA news agency: “We are on strike because we are really concerned about public safety.

“When people leave the NHS en masse… staff members don’t stay, they’re disappointed, they’re disheartened, they’re fed up with the current situation and there’s no incentive to stay.

“Wages are not rising in line with inflation and our patients are suffering as a result and that is what we want to change.”

Describing her day job, she said: “It’s not unusual for us to go out to see the first patient on the day we start our shift, and the patient could have waited more than 12 hours for an ambulance. Then they have to go to the hospital, and we can spend the entire 12 hours (shift) outside the hospital waiting for that patient to be handed over.

“I’m sitting outside the hospital and I hear screams for help that we can’t answer because I have a patient in the ambulance.

“And it’s like that day after day, and you come home and you feel down and depressed that you’re not doing the job you signed up for.

“This is not how an ambulance should be.

“And yet somehow you have to go home and get up and do it all over again the next day, and it’s depressing and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

“So that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Industrial strike

Ambulance workers on the picket line outside Donnington Ambulance Hub, near Telford, Shropshire (Jacob King/PA)

On responding to emergencies during strike action, Ms Nelson said: “I speak for most of us when we say we continue to respond to calls of the highest order.

“I don’t think we can’t, in good conscience, respond to the people who need us the most. But that’s what ambulance is all about – we’re there for emergencies and we’ll continue to respond to those situations.”

Ambulance technician Jacs Murphy, meanwhile, said: “We’re at a stage where we’re losing staff day after day because they can’t continue on their way and that means we can’t look after our patients.”

Speaking from the same picket line in Shropshire, the 54-year-old added: “People are dying, we see that all the time.

“We see people not getting the treatment they need at the time they need it, so they get sicker and sicker and then eventually die because we can’t get to them or they don’t get the surgeries they need. needed on time due to underfunding, due to staff shortages.

“Ultimately, if we don’t have funding for the NHS and we don’t look after both the public and staff, I feel we will lose the NHS – it will become private.

“When it becomes private, we will pay for ambulances, we will pay for everything we need, and there will be people who cannot afford it. They will suffer.”

Ambulance workers on the picket line outside the Donnington Ambulance Hub, near Telford, Shropshire (Jacob King/PA)

GMB union member at picket in Donnington, Shropshire (Jacob King/PA)

At a picket in Leeds, Ambulance Assistant Bronte Williams said: “Working conditions are not great. It’s not fair to the patients and the teams we work with.

“I think things need to change.”

Ms Williams added: “In addition, patients are losing faith in the NHS.”

She said: “The only thing that gets to me is the waiting times in the hospital.

“We used to wait an hour for the handover. It never was.

“The NHS is being pushed to its limits and we can’t keep up.”

Ms Williams continued: “We need better working conditions, we need a pay rise and we just need more faith from the government.”

Also in Leeds, A&E doctor Lyndsay Jephson said: “Patients are in the corridors, we are waiting in the corridors.

“I waited up to six hours myself, my colleagues waited up to 16 hours in the corridor with patients requiring urgent medical attention.

“It’s not fair and it’s not good enough for our patients.”

Ms Jephson added: “Patients die waiting for appointments and that’s the point.”

She continued: “Me and my colleagues don’t want to be striking. We want to be there taking care of the patients.”

Industrial strike

Ambulance workers on the picket line outside Leeds Ambulance Station (Jon Super/PA)

Speaking at the Unison picket at London Ambulance Service headquarters in Waterloo, paramedic Richard Kingham told PA: “In my job, I wait with very sick people for help much longer than usual.

“If you’re with someone who’s having a heart attack and you can’t take them to the hospital because there’s no ambulance to send, it’s very, very scary.”

Unison union health chief Sara Gorton said workers were standing on ice pickets as their jobs were “compromised overnight”.

“Unfortunately, on the day of the strike, that means services are affected – strikes need to have an impact to be taken seriously,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“And that’s why it was such a difficult decision for many of these people to vote for the strike, to take it.

“And that’s why it’s so frustrating that after two days of strike action and some positive progress, the government has failed to do what it should have done to call off the strikes – which is to pledge additional funds for and sit down and start formal talks.

“Ultimately, none of these people who are on strike want to be there – they want to do the work they love, and those jobs have just been threatened overnight.”

Gorton said all services involved in strikes have emergency coverage that “in principle” will cover all life-threatening incidents – also known as Category 1 calls.

Category 2 calls, which may include heart attacks and strokes, will be assessed and if there is a “risk to life and limb” ambulance personnel will leave their picket lines to respond.

Meanwhile, Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham told Sky News: “Five hundred people die every week waiting for an ambulance in the world’s richest economy. It is an absolute national disgrace.

“Of course (the dispute) is only about pay, but it’s also about the very existence of the NHS.

“How could there be a situation where there is no strike, 500 people die every week in the UK waiting for an ambulance? It’s unbelievable.

“So we have to drive a stake into the ground, we have to defend the NHS and the public wants us to do that.”

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