Ambulance strikes: What level of service will be available in my area?

Ambulance workers walk in front of a vehicle with a gurney.
Ambulance services across England and Wales will be disrupted when workers go on strike this month. Credit: PA

Ambulance workers and other NHS staff begin strike action on Wednesday in a dispute over pay, with a second walkout planned for the week following Christmas.

Thousands of GMB, Unite and Unison union members will head to picket lines across England and Wales, though strike action by their members will not take place within every trust.

Regardless, the walkouts will affect the level of services available to the public, but unions have moved to assure concerned residents that emergency cover will be provided.

So, what level of service can you expect to still be able to access in your area when ambulance workers strike?

  • North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (NEAS)

NEAS is one of just two trusts where members of all three unions will take strike action.

"NEAS is clear that we will not be able to respond to all calls of a serious nature and there are likely to be significant delays in response for patients who have to less serious illness or injury," it said.

Individuals covered by NEAS are also asked to use "services wisely" on both strike days and those that immediately follow walkouts.

  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS)

Members of both Unison and GMB will head to picket lines and, as a result, members of the public are asked to only dial 999 for an ambulance for life-threatening conditions or injuries.

A statement from YAS said: "Ambulances will still be able to respond during the strike, but this will only be where there is an immediate risk to life.

"Less serious calls will not receive a response for the duration of the strike action and some patients might be asked to make their own way to hospital, where it is safe for them to so."

  • North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust (NWAS)

Like its counterpart in the North East, NWAS members from Unison, Unite and GMB will hold strike action.

NWAS said "as much as it can" it will prioritise calls of a life-threatening nature, but added: "It is important to acknowledge that ambulance waits are to be expected.

"Those with less serious conditions are likely to be asked to seek alternatives."

  • West Midlands Ambulance Service University NHS Foundation Trust (WMAS)

Unite and GMB members voted for strike action to take place within WMAS.

Advice on what services will be available from WMAS has yet to be announced.

How the strikes will unfold

  • East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EMAS)

GMB members will be the sole representatives for strike action within EMAS.

Ben Holdaway, Director of Operations at EMAS, said: "We anticipate that on days where there is industrial action that there will still be fewer ambulances available and therefore our responses to our patients will, inevitably, be much slower on the day."

Members of the public are being urged to only call 999 if there is a serious risk to life - for example in the case of a cardiac arrest - or if a person is seriously ill or injured, (e.g. they are suffering a stroke).

  • South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT)

SWASFT picket lines will be made up of its members from GMB and Unison.

Similar to advice issued by other trusts, SWASFT has said members of the public should only call 999 on strike days if there is a medical or mental health emergency.

In a statement, it said: "Ambulances will still be able to respond in these situations, but this may only be where there is the most immediate risk to life."

  • South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS)

SCAS, like several other trusts, will see strike action taken only by GMB members.

Calls made where a person is "most in need will still get a response" on strike days, according to SCAS.

It added: "Ambulances will be dispatched where clinically appropriate."

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  • South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb)

Only members of the GMB union will take strike action within SECAmb.

The trust has said it will prioritise its "response to our most seriously ill and injured patients", but "anyone not facing a life-threatening emergency is likely to wait longer for a response or be directed to alternative care".

People who fall under SECAmb are instead urged to seek help and advice from alternatives, such as their own GP or pharmacist when strikes take place.

  • London Ambulance Service NHS Trust (LAS)

Across the capital Unison members will walkout for 12 hours from midday to midnight on Wednesday.

LAS' official advice says people should only call 999 if there is a "medical or mental health emergency".

Due to fewer ambulances being available it has said people "whose conditions are not life-threatening are unlikely to get an ambulance on industrial action days".

Alternative support will be available through NHS111 online or through NHS 111.

  • East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST)

No strike action will be held by workers within EEAST, but the trust has declared a critical incident along with two others due to a "huge pressure" created by 999 call volumes and hospital handover delays.

  • Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust (WAS)

As is the case across nearly all of England, members of GMB will strike within WAS.

WAS has asked residents to "keep 999 for serious and life threatening emergencies" on days where industrial action takes place.