AMBULANCE driver unions stand accused of “putting lives at risk” — as a poll reveals support is low for their strike.
Only four per cent of Sun readers back the planned walkout by GMB, Unite and Unison drivers on Wednesday.
More than 10,000 ambulance staff in England and Wales will strike on Wednesday, and also December 28 in the pay dispute — but many local unions branches have yet to give details of who is planning to walk out and where.
Ambulance bosses say there will be no patient transfers between hospitals on Wednesday, as well as no services taking people home from hospital.
A leaked letter from the North West Ambulance Service warned pregnant women and care homes will be told to use taxis and the disruption could last 72 hours.
Sara Gorton, from Unison, told the BBC: “All of the arrangements for emergency cover are being arranged at a local level — there will be systems put in place to try and make sure that any life threatening call will be responded to.”
But she admitted that “obviously on strike days there is more risk”. The unions say the 1,200 members of the armed forces are not “sufficiently trained” to fill in their jobs.
‘Lives are at stake’
Nathan Holman, from GMB, said bringing in “untrained” personnel would be a “hindrance” rather than a help.
But Health Secretary Steve Barclay said his “number one priority” is keeping patients safe and would use all contingency options.
A Department of Health source said last night: “Steve is concerned some unions are openly threatening to cause maximum disruption to services during industrial action — that is not reasonable or responsible.
“They need to learn the lessons of Thursday’s RCN strike and ensure they maintain life threatening and emergency cover. If unions fail to do that, they will put lives at risk.”
The Cabinet Office is set to publish a new “resilience framework” today, bringing together all levels of government, as well as the private sector, charities and the public to “bolster” the UK’s preparedness for industrial action.
Mr Barclay said: “People who need emergency and life-threatening care should continue to come forward as normal, or use NHS 111 online for urgent advice.
“I have listened to unions and am open to further discussions but their demands are not affordable in the economic circumstances.”
Last night Tory MPs broke cover to warn of the consequences of the strikes. Lincoln MP Karl McCartney said: “The unions need to do the right thing before lives are needlessly put at risk.”
Milton Keynes MP Ben Everitt added: “Ambulance service unions need to get to the table, be reasonable, and get this sorted. Lives are at stake.”
But Ms Gorton added that the action would last into next year, telling the Sunday Times: “I think health unions will work together to make sure that the action is as effective as possible. So that might mean synchronising action.
“What we aim to do is to cause the maximum disruption in terms of planning with the minimum harm to patients.
“So what that might look like is a rolling programme of action with different groups of different occupations.”
The Sun’s online survey of more than 9,500 people on the strikes hitting the UK found 96 per cent disagreed with the ambulance strike.
That was compared to nurses gaining the most support, with 35 per cent backing them, with their second walkout due tomorrow.
But railway workers and posties languished with just 1.6 and 2.5 per cent expressing sympathy.
A total of 43 per cent none of the walkouts this winter deserve support, with 13 per cent suggesting every sector needs a pay rise.
/ 15 mins ago
There are matching Valentine’s PJs for the whole family, and more. Don’t wait to...