Britain is braced for the biggest ambulance strike action in 30 years later this month.
Tens of thousands of ambulance workers across the country will walk out in a dispute over pay after three unions announced coordinated strike action with paramedics and 999 call handlers.
They voted for strike action over the Government’s four per cent pay award amid soaring inflation, which currently stands at 11 per cent.
All three unions, representing around 25,000 ambulance workers, will walk out in a coordinated strike on Dec 21. The action will involve paramedics, call handlers and emergency care assistants at 10 of the 11 trusts in England and Wales.
A further strike by members of the GMB union at nine trusts will take place on Dec 28. The timing of the walkouts will vary between each union and ambulance service, with some on strike for 24 hours.
NHS sources warned that elderly patients who fall at home face being left without an ambulance as they are unlikely to be included in the "life and limb" cover that will be provided during the action.
Meanwhile, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that the strikes will result in severely ill patients having to take themselves to A&E.
It comes as the country braces for a month of strike action, with up to 100,000 nurses walking out on Dec 15 and 20.
When are the strikes?
Wednesday December 21
Wednesday December 28
Where are they being held?
More than 10,000 workers in the GMB union will walk out across nine trusts in England and Wales:
South West Ambulance Service
South East Coast Ambulance Service
North West Ambulance Service
South Central Ambulance Service
North East Ambulance Service
East Midlands Ambulance Service
West Midlands Ambulance Service
Welsh Ambulance Service
Yorkshire Ambulance Service
Ambulance crews working for five services in England represented by Unison will also go out on strike on Dec 21. These include:
The North West
The North East
The South West
The Unison strike action, involving paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew, will take place from midday to midnight on Dec 21.
They will be joined by nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS workers at two Liverpool hospitals, who will also take action that day.
More than 1,600 workers represented by the Unite union will also walk out on Dec 21. The timings are as follows:
North West Ambulance Service - 6am-6pm, all members
West Midlands Ambulance Service - 6am-6pm, all members
North East Ambulance Service - midnight - 23:59, all members
Will there be any paramedic support?
Union leaders will meet with NHS England and industry associations to agree on the types of emergency calls they will still attend. This is likely to include cases such as heart attacks, strokes and sepsis.
On Wednesday morning, Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said there is "still a question" over whether ambulance services will cover all emergency callouts during the strikes.
Mr Barclay said officials plan to meet on Thursday to discuss coverage of category two callouts - which cover strokes, epilepsy and burns.
But he said "the indication from the trade unions" is that conditions like heart attacks will be covered.
Emergency calls deemed to be category one – people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – or category two, emergency calls, are expected to be prioritised.
However, patients in category three - typically including falls - and category four are unlikely to be sent an ambulance during the strikes.
Unions have said that staffing at ambulance services is already so low that meeting minimum required levels could mean asking workers to take on extra shifts.
Mr Barclay added: "Of course, we can look at what contingency plans we can put in place, but they're never going to cover the same amount as having 3,000 ambulances on the day, which is roughly what we have on a typical day."
What to do if you need emergency help during a strike
The Department of Health and Social Care have said the advice remains for people to call 999 in an emergency.
A spokesperson said: "Health leaders are also concerned that the prospect of strike action may affect how people decide to engage with the NHS, but the advice remains that if it is an emergency, it is vital they should still call 999."
Therefore, people should continue to call 999 if they believe they need immediate response to a life-threatening condition.
Average waiting times for ambulances
The latest data show more than one in three ambulances were delayed by at least 30 minutes while handing over patients outside hospitals in England in the last week of November.
In some parts of the country, more than half of patients were held outside while waiting to enter A&E.
Meanwhile, response times in October for category one calls, deemed life-threatening, were nine minutes and 56 seconds, the highest on record.