AMBULANCE workers are putting patients at risk during strike action, the health secretary has warned.
Steve Barclay said unions have made a ‘conscious choice’ to inflict harm on patients.
NHS trusts up and down the country and unions say plans have been put in place to protect patients.
The health secretary last night held last ditch talks to try and prevent today’s strikes, and ultimately, prevent patient harm.
However, Mr Barclay said: “‘We now know that the NHS contingency plans will not cover all 999 calls. Ambulance unions have made a conscious choice to inflict harm on patients.”
He also warned that the system will be under very severe pressure today, and urged people to use their ‘common sense’.
However unions have said the blame would be at the Government’s door if people die during the strike action today.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said it was ‘irresponsible’ of the government to refuse to open any kind of discussion or negotiations.
Thousands of members from Unison, Unite and GMB have walked, with a second walkout planned for the week after Christmas.
Health minister Will Quince suggested avoiding contact sports, unnecessary car journeys and running in icy weather.
Mr Barclay this morning doubled down on his initial refusal to negotiate on pay and said next year’s review is already in process.
“Obviously that body will then consider the changes in inflation, the other issues that have been raised, all as part of the normal process of looking at next year’s pay, so we should look forward,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
NHS Confederation’s Matthew Taylor this morning said ‘today is not the best day to end up in A&E’.
He urged patients to be sensible during a difficult day and said: “It’s the season of parties, pre-Christmas, so do enjoy yourself but obviously don’t get so drunk that you end up with an unnecessary visit to A&E.
“That’s good advice at the best of times and certainly on today when we know that services are stretched.”
Medics have already warned that hospitals are ‘full to bursting’.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said people will be waiting a long time in A&E.
He said A&E departments were expecting people to turn up in different ways during the ambulance strike, adding: “We’re expecting people with strokes and heart attacks to turn up at the front door. Now, because of the delays this has already been happening quite a lot anyway.”
COMMON SENSE APPROACH
Eight services this week declared critical incidents before industrial action even started because they were crumbling under pressure.
Only life-or-death calls will be guaranteed a response.
Politicians and NHS bosses said Brits should act “sensibly” to take pressure off A&E departments.
Health Minister Will Quince told the BBC: “Where people are planning any risky activity I’d strongly encourage them not to because there will be disruption. Whether it’s, for example, contact sport, they may want to review that.”
Downing Street added: “We would never recommend anyone put themselves in harm’s way on any given day.
“The public, as we saw through Covid, can be trusted to use their common sense.”
Medical director Prof Sir Stephen Powis said: “People can take sensible steps to keep safe and not end up in A&E. That could be drinking responsibly or checking on a family member or neighbour.”
Efforts to avoid the strike broke down yesterday amid clashes over inflation-busting pay rises.
Mr Barclay said: “I have met with ambulance union reps urging them to honour their commitment to provide responses to life-threatening emergency calls.
“Ultimately, union demands are unaffordable during these challenging times but, as I’ve said before, I’m open to engaging with unions on how to make the NHS a better place to work.”
Onay Kasab, at Unite, said: “The meeting was made entirely pointless by the attitude of Stephen Barclay who refused to discuss pay.
“How he hopes to get movement and resolve the dispute without discussing the key issue is mystifying.”
Writing to PM Rishi Sunak, the Mr Taylor said: “This is not something NHS leaders would ever say lightly, but many now tell us that they cannot guarantee patient safety.
“On health grounds alone, it is clear we have entered dangerous territory.”
Is your region affected?
In the North East, members from all three unions will strike today.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) urged locals to use their services wisely and said it will not be able to respond to all calls of a serious nature.
They added that there would be ‘significant delays’ in response for patients who have less serious illness or injury.
Across the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS), Unison and GMB members have today headed out to the picket lines.
In the North West, all three unions will also strike, with the trust vowing to do ”as much as it can’, prioritising calls of a life-threatening nature.
GMB members are striking today in the East Midlands, with the trust saying fewer ambulances will be available.
In the South West, GMB and Unison will strike, and they have urged people to only call 999 on strike days if there is a medical or mental health emergency.
Like in the East Midlands, just GMB members are striking in the South Central region.
With members of GMB and Unison also striking in the South West.
Only members of GMB will strike in the South East and across London Unison members will walk out for 12 hours.
In the East, no strike action will be held but they have declared a critical incident.
Members of GMB will also strike across the Welsh ambulance service.