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THOUSANDS of ambulance workers across England and Wales took strike action today in face of the “disheartening” and “demoralising” conditions in the NHS.
Up to 25,000 paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians from Unison and GMB took part in the action across 24 hours in a dispute with the government over pay.
Workers on the picket lines said it was the last place they wanted to be, describing regular hours-long waits to hand over patients from ambulances to the care of doctors and nurses.
Paramedic Jenny Giblin, on a picket line in Birkenhead, Wirral, with her 16-month-old son, said the situation had “definitely got worse” in her seven-year career.
She said: “Corridors are almost like wards. Sometimes you spend a whole shift on a corridor.
“It’s demoralising. I dread coming into work sometimes because I know what’s going to happen.”
Lisa McCabe, also a Birkenhead paramedic, said working conditions are “heartbreaking” as she described how it is “not unusual to stand in corridors for 12 hours without getting a break.”
She said: “Going on strike is the last thing we want to do but I think our voice needs to be heard.”
London Ambulance Service (LAS) worker Marcus Davis also said he does “not want to be here” and hopes this is the “final day” of walkouts before a deal is reached.
One worker on a GMB union picket line in Nottingham, who wished to remain anonymous, said that “the norm” is for ambulances to wait for hours.
She added: “It’s just really disheartening — going to a patient who has possibly been on the floor for 12 hours is just so disheartening.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said delays to ambulances were “clearly a concern as to the impact it has on patient safety.”
He condemned unions for failing to agree national minimum safety levels during strikes, but Unison head of health Sara Gorton said that unions have been wanting to talk with ministers for more than a decade about putting minimum legal staffing requirements in place, without success.
The government’s new focus on the issue appears to be an attempt to vilify health workers and a “distraction from the job in hand,” she said as she stood on the picket line outside the LAS headquarters in Waterloo.
She said the situation within the NHS seems to be “worsening day by day” and the “ball is in the government’s court” to fix it.
In the Commons, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak clashed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the new anti-strike Bill.
Mr Sunak said during PMQs: “No-one denies the unions’ freedom to strike but it is also important to balance that with people’s right to have access to life-saving healthcare.”
The PM also finally admitted he has used private healthcare, following weeks of refusing to respond to questions on whether he relied on NHS services or skipped the queues to see a doctor.
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