Striking ambulance staff REFUSE calls for heart attacks and strokes

Striking ambulance staff REFUSE to respond to calls for heart attack and stroke victims in dangerous escalation of never-ending pay row

  • The change was n made by NHS GMB members in the North West and North East 
  • Read more: Strike hell for NHS: More than 11,000 ambulance workers walk out 

Ambulance unions are now refusing to answer calls from heart attack and stroke victims in sign the dispute over NHS pay is reaching a dangerous escalation. 

Previously ambulance staff agreed to cover these emergencies, known as category 2 incidents, during strikes in a system called derogation where union members are exempt from industrial action to give so-called life and limb care. 

But NHS union GMB said members in the North East Ambulance Service and North West Ambulance Service would now only cover category 1 calls during today’s strike action.

Category 1 calls are for the most life-threatening emergencies like cardiac arrests,  people not breathing, or for patients bleeding heavily. 

The escalation comes as 11,000 ambulance workers returned to the picket lines in England and Wales today in the latest bout in NHS unions’ long running dispute with ministers over pay and conditions.  

The escalation of the ongoing dispute over pay and conditions for ambulance staff comes as 11,000 returned to the picket line today

GMB members working in the North East Ambulance Service and North West Ambulance Service will no longer cover all category 2 calls, a classification of emergencies that covers heart attacks and strokes. Pictured union members on strike in the West Midlands on February 17

January saw some minor relief for ambulance response times with Brits suffering from suspected heart attacks and strokes only having to wait 32 minutes on average for an ambulance down from a record high of 90 minutes in December. However, the figure is still double the official target that Brits should only wait an average of 18 minutes in such emergencies

Relations between No10 and ambulance unions has increasingly soured over the past few months with ministers threating to bring in a law requiring NHS unions to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. 

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Pictured: Ambulances lined up outside the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent in January 2021

North East Ambulance Service Trust said on social media that it a marked shift compared to previous industrial action GMB members, which are striking from 6am today until 6am tomorrow, would not be covering Category 2 calls.  

‘Unlike previous industrial action periods, the only exemptions that the GMB union have agreed to is for their members to respond to category 1 calls only,’ it said. 

‘No derogations have been agreed with GMB for patient transport services, call taking, dispatch or emergency care response to “life and limb” incidents which are not categorised as C1.

‘This includes category 2 conditions such as chest pain and strokes.’

Category 2 can also include emergencies like epilepsy, sepsis and burns.  

A North West Ambulance Service spokesperson added: ‘The toughening of GMB’s position does create increased pressure on the resources available to us.’

‘We are doing everything to we can mitigate this, including moving ambulances from other areas of the North West using private and volunteer ambulance services and deploying members of the military alongside clinical colleagues where appropriate.’

But GMB sources told MailOnline said the decision to not cover all category 2 calls was due to a ‘deterioration’ in the relationship between the union and individual employers and was not a national change in strike policy.

They alleged this the move was in response due to some employers ‘abusing’ the derogation system to send crews to minor emergencies.

But GMB source added that crews would ‘of course drop everything’ to cover emergencies like heart attacks and strokes and their refusal to cover all category 2 calls only applied to more minor emergencies in this group, like burns. 

Today’s strike which involved paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers was a joint-action by the unions Unite and the GMB in England and Wales.

Workers walked out of the ambulance trust in Wales and seven of the ten trusts in England today. 

However, ambulance strikes in Scotland were called off after a pay rise of 14 per cent over two years was offered. 

But Welsh Unite members will walk out again on Tuesday and Wednesday as they battle to secure a similar pay offer. 

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, accused the Government of being ‘tin-eared’, adding: ‘It’s been over a month since the Government engaged in any meaningful dialogue.

‘They are missing in action and refuse to talk pay.’

Ambulance workers’ dispute with Downing Street began when they voted to strike over the Government’s 4 per cent pay award last year, in part due to it being below inflation. 

The North East Ambulance Service announced that GMB members had decided not to cover the category 2 calls in a post on social media. 

The ambulance strike is just part of wave of industrial action by NHS staff this winter, with the next strikes due on March 1 when the Royal College of Nursing launches its biggest strike yet

Almost 140,000 ops and appointments have been cancelled because of NHS strikes this winter. That toll includes the biggest ever strike to rock the ailing health service on February 6, involving tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics

GMB has said it wants a ‘catch-up settlement’ for its members to restore ‘a decade of lost earnings and a retention package that properly rewards existing staff’.  

The Government has said that, after receiving the latest pay rise, most ambulance staff have an average pay of £34,300. 

Unions, however, say the basic salary for a call handler is no more than £23,000.

And the Government’s own website says the starting wage for a paramedic is £25,655, though more senior staff will earn more.

So far ministers have declined to negotiate NHS pay for the current financial year, instead saying they are focusing on discussions for the next pay round, due to start in April. 

Ambulance staff from GMB and Unite are planning further strike action 6 and 20 March 

The escalating row with ambulance unions comes as another staff group, junior doctors, are on the edge of launching their own strike. 

Junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) in England have said they will strike for the first time in the union’s history on March 15.

Around 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association (BMA) in England have also been balloted on strike action with the result expected later today. 

With expectations of a big vote in favour of walkouts, the BMA has already warned it will stage a three-day strike if there is a yes result.

Alongside ambulance unions those representing NHS nurses and physiotherapists have also launched a wave of strikes over pay since December.

Like ambulance unions, the Royal College of Nursing also recently decided to escalate the dispute, with its upcoming March strikes to involve a walk out of cancer wards and intensive care for 48 hours.

Unions argue that the pay award put forward by Government is failing to keep up with the rise in inflation, forcing staff to leave the NHS for better paying jobs#.

However, ministers have repeatedly insisted the some 4 per cent offered is all the nation can afford and anything further would have to come at the cost of patient services.   

The ongoing dispute over pay and conditions has led to the cancellation of 140,000 NHS ops and appointments following more than a dozen walkouts this winter. 

Nationally  ambulances took an average of 32 minutes and six seconds to respond to category 2 calls in England in January. This is nearly twice as long as the 18 minute target.

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