NHS faces biggest ever strike on February 6 after fresh ambulance walkout announced

In early February Unite workers will join a mass NHS walkout set to be the biggest yet, ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports.

The NHS is facing its biggest ever day of strike action after the Unite union announced fresh ambulance worker walkouts.

Thousands of nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) were already scheduled to strike on February 6 and 7, and the GMB union announced earlier this week that its ambulance workers would join them on February 6.

On Friday morning, Unite said workers from five ambulance trusts in England and Wales would also join the strike on February 6.

The union said its members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will stage 10 further strikes over the coming weeks, warning that additional dates could be announced soon.

Friday’s announcement also comes as Unite ambulance workers get set to walk out next Monday, with the bitter row with the government remaining deadlocked.

When will Unite members strike, and which ambulance trusts will be affected?

West Midlands: 6 and 17 February and 6 and 20 March North East: 6 and 20 February and 6 and 20 March East Midlands: 6 and 20 February and 6 and 20 March Wales: 6 and 20 February and 6 and 20 March North West: 6 and 22 February 6 and 20 March Northern Ireland: 26 January and 16, 17, 23 and 24 February

Meanwhile, members of the Royal College of Nursing and ambulance workers in the GMB are striking on February 6, while the GMB has also called strikes on February 20 as well as March 6 and 20.

Teachers in Scotland also announced upcoming industrial action. The NASUWT teachers' union said it would join EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union with strikes on February 28 and March 1.

Teaching unions in England and Wales also recommitted to their strikes after six hours of discussion with the Department of Education failed on Friday.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said officials were doing their best to discuss issues including pay and workloads, but faced the “dead hand” of the Treasury.

She said that Friday’s discussions should have been held over the last several years.

However, the Department of Education said in a statement that this week, "officials have held constructive discussions today with union leaders around a broad range of issues.

“They reiterated that action would be highly damaging to children's education, particularly following the disruption experienced over the past two years.”

The NEU plans seven days of strike action in England and Wales, with the first on February 1.

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham Credit: Jacob King/PA

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "Rather than act to protect the NHS and negotiate an end to the dispute, the government has disgracefully chosen to demonise ambulance workers.

"Ministers are deliberately misleading the public about the life and limb cover and who is to blame for excessive deaths.

"Our members faithfully provide life and limb cover on strike days and it’s not the unions who are not providing minimum service levels.

"It’s this government’s disastrous handling of the NHS that has brought it to breaking point, and as crisis piles on crisis, the prime minister is seen to be washing his hands of the dispute. What a disgrace. What an abdication of leadership."

Ambulance workers on the picket line outside Waterloo ambulance station in London last month. Credit: PA

Unite said that as with previous strikes, its representatives will be working at regional level to agree derogations to ensure that emergency life and limb cover will be in place during the action.

Other derogations will ensure that patients needing lifesaving treatment, such as renal care and cancer treatment, will be transported to their appointments, said the union.

Unite official Onay Kasab said: "The resolution to this dispute is in the government’s hands.

"This dispute will only be resolved when it enters into proper negotiations about the current pay dispute.

"The government’s constant attempts to kick the can down the road and its talk about one off payments, or slightly increased pay awards in the future, is simply not good enough to resolve this dispute."

The escalation in industrial action comes as NHS Providers and the NHS Confederation warned of the damage to the NHS caused by prolonged disputes.

Thousands more operations and appointments will need to be cancelled over the next few months, while the loss of ambulance workers will lead to long delays or some patients getting no ambulance sent to them at all.

NHS Providers’ director of policy Miriam Deakin said: "Ten more days of strikes by Unite ambulance staff will make what is already an incredibly difficult situation for NHS patients and staff even harder.

"As one of these dates, February 6, coincides with strikes by nurses and GMB ambulance workers next month, trust leaders are facing what for many may be the most challenging day of their careers.

"Nobody wants these strikes to happen but it’s clear that staff feel they have been driven to this. We understand that.

"Trust leaders will do all they can to mitigate the impact of these strikes but escalating industrial action will only cause further disruption and impact patient care at a time when trust leaders and their staff want to focus on driving down waiting times.

"It’s absolutely imperative that the government sit down with the unions immediately to resolve this by talking about pay for this financial year."

 It was one of the biggest news stories of our time - and it's still not over. So what did Boris Johnson know about Downing Street’s notorious parties? With fresh revelations from our Number 10 sources, in their own words, listen to the inside story...