Military drafted in to drive London ambulances as thousands strike

The picket line Waterloo ambulance station on Wednesday as thousands of workers walkout. Credit: PA

London ambulance workers are now mid-way through a 12-hour strike with only half the usual number of ambulances out responding to calls, many of driven by members of the military.

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) earlier declared a “business continuity incident” as it faces huge pressure during a strike by workers.

Thousands of ambulance workers and paramedics are involved in industrial action in a dispute over pay and conditions. Earlier, Health Secretary Steve Barclay accused striking workers of making a "conscious choice to inflict harm" on patients.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson said LAS was experiencing “high demand across our 999 and 111 services”.

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said it declared a “business continuity incident” due to the “high demand across our 999 and 111 services”.

They added: “In recent days, we have been taking up to 7,000 999 calls every day compared to a pre-pandemic busy day of 5,500 calls.

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said it declared a 'business continuity incident'. Credit: PA

“We are doing everything we can to prioritise our sickest and most severely injured patients and would like to remind the public that if they need urgent medical advice that does not require an emergency ambulance to go to NHS111 online or call 111 for advice and support.”

The public has been urged to “use their common sense” during the strikes.

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.

People are being encouraged to phone 999 as usual if they have a life-threatening condition.

Avril Coelho suffers from epilepsy and needs an ambulance about five times a year. Christmas can be a particularly difficult time because flashing lights can trigger seizures.

She told ITV she did not sleep the night before the strikes.

"I'm gravely concerned for all those people with epilepsy and other conditions who rely on an ambulance to take them to hospital," Avril told ITV News.

Avril Coelho, who suffers from epilepsy said she was "gravely concerned" ahead of the strikes

Around 750 armed forces staff have been brought in to help ambulance trusts on Wednesday, though they will have a limited role.

They will not be providing clinical care and cannot drive through red lights or turn on blue lights to respond to emergencies.

GMB union members gathered at a picket line outside Walton fire station in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, waving flags and holding signs reading “Save the NHS” and “1 in 3 paramedics seen deaths from delays”.

Placards lean against a wall alongside ambulance workers on a picket line in London. Credit: AP

Eddie Brand, 57, an emergency medical technician who is Unison’s branch secretary at LAS, said the conditions for workers are at “rock bottom” and many are seeking help to pay their bills.

Mr Brand later added that in his 36 years in the service “it’s the worst it’s been. People are fed up. People are worried and people are not allowed to be able to do the job they are paid to do”.

He said some are £15,000 in debt after spending three years at university to then wait in a corridor for eight hours to discharge patients.

The Unison general secretary told ITV News she was 'astonished' by the health secretary's accusation that workers have made a 'conscious choice to inflict harm on patients'

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police Chief said it was “galling” to help fill the gaps during public sector strikes while they are unable to take such action themselves.Sir Mark Rowley said industrial action could lead to a greater workload for his officers, who are not legally allowed to strike, leaving them unable to do “critical police work”.

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