Ambulance workers accuse government of 'demonising' them in letter to Rishi Sunak

In a letter to the prime minister seen by ITV News, members of the GMB union said: "You are making us and our ambulance colleagues feel demonised".

Furious ambulance workers have written to Rishi Sunak to accuse his government of demonising them and their colleagues in order to justify new legislation that will limit the right to strike.

Paramedics, call handlers and others at the GMB union said they were "appalled" at some of the statements from government in recent days, and urged ministers to "stop attacking us now".

In a letter seen by ITV News, they write: "We feel utterly betrayed by the way your government has singled out ambulance workers as part of a crude attempt to remove our right to strike.

"You and your ministers should be ashamed of the way you have tried to paint us as uncaring about safety standards - nothing could be further from the truth."

Ambulance workers on the picket line outside Gorse Hill Ambulance station in Leicester. Credit: PA

They were particularly angry about comments by the Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, in the Commons on Tuesday, when introducing minimum service levels legislation.

A new bill will prevent some workers from going on strike in order to limit the impact on key sectors, such as ambulances, fire and rescue and rail.

He praised nurses for having a national agreement on the minimum services that will be maintained during strike days, contrasting them to ambulance unions who negotiate their agreements locally.

"Health officials were left guessing the likely minimum coverage, making contingency planning almost impossible and putting all our constituents' lives at risk," Mr Shapps said.

"The ambulance strikes planned for tomorrow still do not have minimum safety levels in place.

"That will result in patchy emergency care for British people. This cannot continue."

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But members of the GMB's ambulance workers' committee reacted angrily, saying the local plans were thorough, and pointing to data that showed ambulance delays actually fell on December 21 - the day of a previous strike.

"Surely you know that we have been working with NHS trusts everywhere to agree emergency cover during strike action," they wrote.

"In addition to this, GMB members left picket lines to respond to emergency calls.

"Every day, we go above and beyond our contracted hours to make sure vulnerable patients are cared for and even on days of industrial action, this commitment remains as strong as ever."

'We don't want to be out on strike, we want to be out there doing our jobs,' GMB Union Representative Shaun Sproule told ITV News

They said it wasn't their fault that the system was in crisis and that service levels had been poor long before any strikes were called.

They added that they want a "constructive relationship with government" to talk about pay, adding: "But you are making us and our ambulance colleagues feel demonised. Please talk to us and our unions. And stop attacking us now."

Speaking earlier, Mr Sunak insisted he wanted a good relationship with the unions.

"What we are trying to do is have a very constructive, two way dialogue with the unions and those talks are ongoing at the moment," he said.

Sources have told me that the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, is desperate to do a deal to end strikes and is personally open to a one-off payment or backdating pay for NHS workers.

But there is a big question mark over whether No 10 or No 11 will let that happen and, in particular, if he will need to find the funding from within his own department.

Speaking during a visit to Scotland, the PM said he wanted to be reasonable on pay, but that it must be affordable and not increase inflation.

A government spokesperson said: "We completely refute this. As the business secretary said in Parliament, paramedics are the lifeblood of this country, and the government will always defend their ability to strike.

"However, we must keep the public safe, which is why we are introducing minimum service and safety levels across a range of sectors to ensure that lives and livelihoods are not lost."