Tens of thousands of ambulance workers across the country will walk out on Dec 21 in a dispute over pay, with three unions announcing coordinated strike action.
Around 25,000 NHS workers belonging to the GMB, Unison and Unite unions will walk out at 10 of the 11 ambulance trusts across England and Wales.
At some trusts, strike action will take place for 24 hours. It will be the biggest ambulance strike for 30 years.
The unions stopped short of staging a walk out on Dec 20 to coincide with the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) industrial action. Members of the RCN are staging strikes on Dec 15 and 20.
But the announcement of coordinated NHS strikes before Christmas will increase pressure on an already overstretched emergency system.
The President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned strike action by ambulance workers will result in severely ill patients having to take themselves to A&E.
The latest data show more than one in three ambulances were delayed by at least 30 minutes 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 stuck outside in ambulances waiting to enter A&E. Meanwhile, response times for category one calls, deemed life-threatening, were nine minutes and 56 seconds, the highest on record, in October.
The GMB union has also announced that a second day of strike action by its members will take place at nine ambulance trusts in England and Wales on Dec 28.
Unison will also re-ballot around 13,000 NHS staff working for 10 trusts and ambulance services where turnout in the recent strike vote fell short of the threshold.
Workers have voted for strike action over the Government’s four per cent pay award. Union representatives will now work with trust leaders to plan for “life and limb” cover during the action.
However, unions have said staffing levels at ambulance services are already so low that meeting minimum staffing levels could mean asking workers to take on extra shifts.
Rachel Harrison, the GMB national secretary, said: “After 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, NHS staff have had enough. The last thing they want to do is take strike action, but the Government has left them with no choice.
“Steve Barclay needs to listen and engage with us about pay. If he can’t talk to us about this most basic workforce issue, what on earth is he Health Secretary for? The Government could stop this strike in a heartbeat – but they need to wake up and start negotiating on pay.”
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 and Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
The action on Dec 21 will take place at different times depending on each trust, but could be between 6am and 6pm, 6am and midnight, midnight to midnight or 6am to 6am the following day.
Ambulance crews working for five services in England represented by Unison will also go out on strike on Dec 21. These include London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West.
The Unison strike action, involving paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew, will run from midday to midnight.
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.
Unison’s decision to re-ballot 13,000 NHS staff working for 10 trusts and ambulance services includes all the remaining services in England. If successful, it would mean all ambulance trusts in England and Wales would be out on strike.
Sara Gorton, the Unison head of health, said: “The Government will only have itself to blame if there are strikes in the NHS before Christmas.
“Ambulance staff and their health colleagues don’t want to inconvenience anyone. But ministers are refusing to do the one thing that could prevent disruption – that’s start genuine talks about pay.”
More than 1,600 workers represented by the Unite union at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts will also walk out on Dec 21. The union is yet to confirm the timings of the strike action among its workers.
Workers from the three unions combined are estimated to total around 25,000.
Unite is continuing to ballot 10,000 NHS workers at 38 employers in England and Wales. In January, the union plans to extend the ballot to even more NHS workers.
Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said: “Make no mistake, we are now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself. These strikes are a stark warning – our members are taking a stand to save our NHS from this Government.”