Ambulance strike: 'I didn't come into this job to strike', says North East paramedic

A paramedic from the North East Ambulance Service has told ITV News Tyne Tees he "didn't come into this job to strike", but feels so "under pressure" he had no alternative but to join the picket line.

Lee Marshall, who has served the public in the job for more than 13 years, went on strike on Wednesday 11 January, alongside colleagues in the ambulance unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Gateshead.

He said: "Nobody in my position wants to strike. I didn’t come into this job to strike. I come into this job to look after people, but it’s not good for anybody to be on an ambulance for four or five hours waiting to be handed over to a hospital and it just makes everything stressful. It’s stressful for us, it’s stressful for the patient."

A colleague and union representative, Brian Dodds, added that staff are struggling with the cost of living so it is essential the government gives them an appropriate pay offer.

He said: "People get tired of standing in hospital queues, they feel guilty about not being able to look after patients and we have staff leave in their droves because paramedics are wanted elsewhere.

"We’ve got members, especially in the North East, who are actually using food banks, they are using payday loans. Our low paid members of staff are pence above the national minimum wage."

Unison and other unions have said they will not participate in next year's pay review process as this year's remains unresolved.

North East Ambulance workers strike Credit: ITV News

Unison regional secretary for the Northern branch, Clare Williams, said: "There’s ambulances queueing for hours, hospital staff rushed off their feet, ambulances in car parks aren’t on the road responding to emergency calls, so all of the issues are joined together. We’ve got to address the pay issue to address the staffing issue.

"Unison is wanting to negotiate with the government, so you know, I’m not putting a figure on that today, but what we know is that the current situation is not sustainable."

Following a pay review committee recommendation, the government has offered ambulance workers a 4.75% pay rise and claim it is "unaffordable" to award them an "above inflation" pay rise.

On Wednesday, the most critical life threatening 999 calls were still responded to, but Rishi Sunak, during prime minister's questions, chose to highlight the risk the strikes posed to the public.

He said: "What's terrifying is that right now, people not knowing whether, when they call 999 they will get the treatment that they need. In these emergency services, patients should be able to rely on a basic level of lifesaving care. Why is he against that, Mr Speaker?"

Labour leader, Sir Kier Starmer, responded: "There's not a minimum level of service any day, because they've broken the NHS."

Ambulance workers are expected to strike again on 23 January if no deal is made in the meantime over pay.

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