Ambulance rushes away from picket line to attend ill child amid strikes

Paramedics break the picket line for an urgent call

An ambulance has been captured rushing away from a Merseyside picket line to attend an urgent call for a young child.

Ambulance workers in the town of St Helens were among the 25,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales who went on strike on Wednesday.

However, staff broke the picket line to jump into an ambulance, switch the sirens on and attend the address of a youngster in need.

The strikes across the two nations are taking place in a staggered format across 24 hours. Paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians from the Unison and GMB unions are among those walking out.

None of the workers will strike for longer than 12 hours, with call handlers expected to walk out for six-hour periods.

NHS England has told patients to continue to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, but to use 111, GPs and pharmacies for non-urgent needs.

ITV News reports on why thousands of ambulance workers have gone on strike and how the escalating industrial dispute is impacting on patient care

Taxis ferry patients to A&E as ambulance workers strike

NHS England also said some people may be asked to make their own way to hospital, though it urged people to seek medical advice from 111 or 999 before doing so.

ITV News has heard from two taxi companies who've seen an increase in demand due to Wednesday's industrial action.

Streamline Taxis in Brighton has offered 50% off trips for those who need to go to A&E and said they had received 16 bookings for this service by 1.30pm on Wednesday. Tiger2000 in Rochdale, who enlisted extra drivers ahead of the strike, said they have transported a child with an injured leg to A&E.

Mehreen Suleman was one of many people affected by the strikes. She said her nephew's foot became swollen after having had a fall at school, meaning he could "barely walk" and was in a lot of pain. 

"When I rang the ambulance service, they said there is a waiting time of up to two hours," Ms Suleman told ITV News, adding that she was shocked and stressed at the length of time she was told she'd have to wait.

"I didn't have no other car arrangement. I don't drive myself."

'Knowing the ambulance is going to be two hours is ridiculous to be honest'

She expressed gratitude that she was able to quickly find a local taxi in Rochdale, which came "within a couple of minutes" to take them to the hospital. 

After going to A&E, she later found out her nephew's injury was just a sprain.

"Luckily I managed to get the taxi, but if there was, and he has hurt his leg, but if there was another emergency, I couldn't really imagine what I would have done," Ms Suleman continued.

"If they needed oxygen, for example, that would have been a really big problem for them patients."

Rishi Sunak welcomed the Japanese prime minister today - but it's the battle lines over the NHS that would have been preoccupying his mind, ITV News' Romilly Weeks reports.

Only call 999 if life is at risk, ambulance service stresses

Health leaders earlier warned that there will be additional stress on the system owing to this being a larger strike than one held in December.

In the North West, the ambulance service there urged the public to keep ambulances for people with life-threatening injuries and illnesses.

“Typical emergencies include cardiac arrest, loss of consciousness, fits that aren’t stopping, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding or allergic reactions and serious head injuries,” it said.

“Other patients requiring hospital treatment will likely be asked to take alternative transport, such as a taxi or get a lift from family or friends.”

It said this strike would see “more staff striking in more service areas” and, as well as reduced ambulance crews, there would be fewer 999 and 111 call staff.

Across wider England and Wales, patients could expect waits for 999 and 111 calls to be answered, and fewer ambulances will be on the road.

Unison has balloted around 15,000 of its members who are striking in London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West.

More than 10,000 GMB ambulance workers were also expected to strike, with their ambulance services covering the North West, South West, South East coast, South central area, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Wales.

How the strikes will unfold:

Speaking earlier, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Today’s ambulance strike is an unwelcome return to unnecessary disruption and comes at a time when the NHS is already under huge pressure from Covid and flu.

“While we have contingency plans in place, including support from the military, community first responders and extra call handlers, to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be some disruption for patients with fewer ambulances on the road.”

Ambulance responses are split into categories, with category 1 being the most life-threatening such as cardiac arrest, while category 2 covers conditions such as stroke, heart attack and sepsis.

No blanket agreement has been reached on responding to category 2 calls, with unions and trusts agreeing locally which category 2 calls will receive a response during the strike.

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Meanwhile, in London, Daniel Elkeles, the service’s chief executive officer, said it had an agreement that a maximum of 50% of the staff will be taking industrial action at any one time and staff will come off picket lines if call-answering times are too long.

Asked if category 2 calls such as suspected heart attacks and strokes will be answered, he said: “They will. We have called it life and limb conditions because some of them are in category 1, some of them are in category 2, and actually some might be in category 3.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said trust leaders feared the NHS will be hit harder by Wednesday’s strike as more staff strike.

She said “trust leaders expect significant disruption to patient care” but “will pull out all the stops” to minimise the impact.

She added: “We understand what has driven overworked ambulance workers to strike. It’s a blow that talks between the government and unions have failed to negotiate pay and prevent more strikes.”

Talks between unions and government remain fruitless

Talks on Monday between unions and government ministers failed to avert the strike action, with industrial action also in the pipeline by teachers and rail staff.

Nurses are preparing to strike next Wednesday and Thursday, and a further ambulance strike is scheduled for January 23.

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison said that, ironically, there could be safer staffing levels on Wednesday than on a non-strike day because of the “chaos” in the NHS caused by the shortage of workers.

She added that it would be a “complete and utter lie to say we are not putting in place contingency plans because we are working very closely with employers on that".

Unison’s head of health, Sarah Gorton, said progress had been made at a meeting with health secretary Steve Barclay on Monday, adding there was “ample time” to resolve the dispute before the next strike.

GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said the union “needs a concrete offer” for its members.

On Tuesday, the government introduced new legislation to Parliament for “minimum safety levels” when workers go on strike.

Business secretary Grant Shapps told the Commons the ambulance strike on Wednesday “still does not have minimum safety levels in place and this will result in patchy emergency care for the British people”.

Ambulance workers in England and Wales are demanding a pay rise above inflation. The government say most ambulance staff have received a pay rise of at least 4%.