Ambulance strikes: Paramedics will still 'respond to seriously ill' as latest strike gets underway

'Less serious patients will certainly see a delayed response' - Jason Killens, Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service

The boss of the Welsh Ambulance Service says paramedics will still "respond to the most seriously ill" despite more than 1,000 ambulance workers in Wales going on strike for the second time in less than a month.

People have been urged to only dial 999 for life-threatening emergencies as members of the GMB union - including paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff - stage a major walk out on Wednesday (Jan 11).

Union members are picketing at 19 locations including in Wrexham, Cardiff, Pembroke Dock and Llandudno.

Welsh Ambulance Service workers will stage more walkouts on January 19 and 23. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Jason Killens, the Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said agreements are in place so that striking staff will continue to respond to the most seriously ill and injured as they normally would.

Despite the "exceptions package" he did say that "less serious patients will certainly see a delayed response."

Killens added that a lot of the staff he spoke to were "conflicted" about their decision to strike.

"They join the ambulance service to help people and provide great care to patients when they need it most," he said.

Although Killens highlighted that "the dispute is primarily about pay" he also said working conditions and hospital handover delays are other reasons members of staff are striking.

The industrial action comes as strikes are also being held by ambulance staff across England. Credit: ITV News Wales

The Welsh Government says it has invited unions to discuss a one-off cash payment to NHS staff to try and break the deadlock.

The industrial action comes as strikes are also being held by ambulance staff across England.

Health leaders have warned that there will be additional stress on the system owing to this being a larger strike than one held in December.

Patients can expect longer waits for 999 and 111 calls to be answered, and fewer ambulances will be on the road.

A 999 call handler Credit: PA

GMB Union said workers with the Welsh Ambulance Service voted in favour of industrial action over the Government's 4% pay award, which they described as "another massive real-terms pay cut".

To end the dispute the union says it needs a concrete offer to help resolve the NHS's recruitment and retention crisis.

The Welsh Government has not said how much the one-off cash payment over and above the 2022-23 pay award is, but it is negotiating with unions on that and on agency staffing and employee welfare and wellbeing issues.

However the GMB Union has said the one-off payment has come too late to change the planned strike action. Nathan Holman, NHS Wales Lead Officer, said: "Our members deserve to have confidence in their wage packets and need to be able to plan their own budgets.

"Many GMB members are facing considerable financial hardship.

"We welcome the response from the Welsh Labour Government in Wales to at least come round the table to negotiate with the trade unions.

"This is a far cry from the UK Government, which has so far ignored any meaningful negotiations.

"Once we have a firm detailed offer from Welsh Government, we will consult our membership."

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: "GMB cancelled a planned strike over the Christmas period to say thank you to the public for their incredible support.

"To end this dispute, GMB needs a concrete offer to help resolve the NHS's crushing recruitment and retention crisis.

"The public expects the Government to treat this dispute seriously - it's time they got on with it."

Ambulance workers who are part of Unite the union are are also to stage 24-hour strikes over pay and staffing on January 19 and 23.

Unite say 88% of more than 1,000 members voted for strike action.

The Welsh Government has offered a one-off payment award to NHS staff in an effort to end the strike. Credit: PA

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We recognise why so many ambulance workers voted the way they did and the anger and disappointment many public sector workers are feeling at the moment.

"We will continue to work with the NHS, unions and partners to ensure life-saving and life-maintaining care is provided during the industrial action, patient safety is maintained and disruption is minimised.

"But it is vital that all of us to do all we can to minimise pressure on our health service during the industrial action and consider carefully what activities we take part in."

Wales' Health Minister, Eluned Morgan, was criticised in the Senedd on Tuesday by Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth after she said strikes had increased pressure on an already overburdened NHS.

Ms Morgan said investment had been made in June to help increase capacity in the ambulance service to deal with winter pressures, including the recruitment of 100 additional frontline staff.

When the Welsh Conservatives pointed out the Labour-led Senedd had been responsible for the Welsh NHS for 25 years, Ms Morgan responded: "We have had 10 years of austerity that has starved us compared to what was previous to that and under Labour.

"That was a policy, a deliberate policy decision. That is part of the reason we're in the situation we're in today.

"Just in terms of how we compare to England, the Nuffield Trust tells us that we spend 5% more than England on health - that was pre-Covid - and 30% more than England if you include social care.

"We do that because we've got an older and sicker population."

The Health Minister has said 10 years of austerity has "starved" the NHS in Wales.

Commenting on the second day of ambulance strikes in Wales, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“Whilst it is welcome that the Labour Government has finally recognised that it has responsibility for funding the NHS in Wales and that they are now, at last, willing to talk pay with the unions, it should not have taken this long for it to happen. 

“That is why the strikes are still on-going and why other groups, like midwives, are also voting to join the picket lines.

“That is why talking about working conditions is so important too because after 26 years of Labour-rule, the NHS has atrophied to the extent patients don’t feel safe and staff are worn out.

“It is that mismanagement which has led to the worst ambulance response times on record with a less than 50/50 chance of getting one attending a life-threatening situation in the target time.”

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