Thousands of ambulance staff across England and Wales are on strike again today, with people being warned to only call 999 if your condition is life-threatening - ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports.
Ambulance workers have launched a fresh strike on Monday in an escalating dispute over pay and staffing.
Staff went on strike today for the third time in five weeks, as the government was urged to urgently resolve a deepening row over health workers' pay and conditions.
It comes after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was told he can halt industrial action and begin solving the staffing emergency if he comes up with new money to pay health workers, including paramedics and NHS staff, “fairly”.
But Unison warned Mr Hunt that if he continues to resist appeals to release extra cash and kickstart talks with unions to end the strikes, the NHS dispute could run for many months
Thousands of members of Unison, Unite and the GMB walked out across England and Wales on Monday.
Up to 15,000 Unison ambulance workers went on strike for the third time in five weeks and were joined by 5,000 of their NHS colleagues at two hospital trusts in Liverpool.
From 7am, paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians, other 999 crew members and control room staff across five services in England – London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West – joined picket lines.
Porters, cleaners, nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, theatre staff and other NHS workers at the Liverpool University Hospitals Trust and the city’s Heart and Chest Hospital are also out on strike.
A one-off payment for workers was offered by the Welsh government to avoid the strikes in Wales where health is devolved, but this was rejected by unions.
On Monday, Rishi Sunak defended his government's approach to the strikes while promoting a £150m package to improve mental health services for the NHS, with funding going to 111, crisis centres, ambulances and communities.
Speaking to ITV News on Monday, the PM said this would help "alleviate pressure in A&E departments."
"It would be lovely to be able to wave a magic wand and just give everyone what they were demanding when it came to pay."
When pressed on if the best way to help people with mental health issues was to resolve the strikes and reduce waiting times, the prime minister defended the government's current approach saying the proposed pay rise was "based on what's reasonable, what's fair, what's responsible for the country, and indeed what's affordable."
He said: "It would be lovely to be able to wave a magic wand and just give everyone what they were demanding when it came to pay.
"But you know, my job as prime minister is to make the right decisions for the country and they're more often than not, not easy decisions but that's my job."
He said if there was a large pay rise it would have to come out of the current NHS budget and that would mean "fewer nurses, fewer doctors, fewer MRI scanners and CT scanners that are diagnosing people with cancer or indeed fewer mental health ambulances."
The prime minister said his priority was reducing inflation and increasing the government's pay rise offer to the public sector would not help with that goal.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The solution to the growing NHS crisis is staring the government in the face. It’s simple, all the chancellor needs to do is find the money to pay health workers fairly.
“The public wants the government to end the dispute, so do NHS staff, but most ministers look like they’d rather dig in and do nothing instead of boost pay and help turn the ailing NHS around.
“Higher wages would stop experienced employees leaving for better paid jobs and encourage more people to come and work in the NHS.
“With more staff, ambulance response times would improve, and patient waits for treatment shorten. Everyone would be a winner.
“It’s strange that it’s the chancellor blocking progress. Jeremy Hunt knows the NHS better than anyone in the Cabinet.
“As health secretary, he negotiated the wage deal to end the 2015 NHS strike and pushed for fair pay when Health Select Committee chair. But as Chancellor he’s chosen to forget all that.
“Jeremy Hunt knows improved wages are critical to solving the NHS staffing emergency. He must come out of hiding and unlock the funding to end the strikes. Then the focus can be on nursing the NHS back to good health.”
Further strikes are planned in the coming weeks by nurses and other NHS workers.
Midwives in Wales are to stage an eight-hour walkout on the same day that thousands of nurses are also due to go on strike on February 7.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “It is hugely disappointing some ambulance workers are continuing to take industrial action. While we have contingency plans in place to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be further disruption.
“It is important people continue coming forward for treatment – call 999 in life-threatening emergencies and use NHS 111 online, local pharmacies and GP services for non-life-threatening care.
“I have had constructive talks with unions about this coming year’s pay process for 2023/24, and am keen to continue talking about what is affordable and fair.”
NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis urged people to call 999 in the event of an emergency.
“As with other ambulance strikes, the message to patients remains that it is vital to come forward and seek emergency care if needed," he said.
“This includes calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies as well as using 111 online for other health needs where you will receive clinical advice on the best next steps to take.
“People should also continue to use local services such as pharmacies and general practice as they normally would which aren’t impacted by strike action.”
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