Ambulance strikes: Paramedics speak of hospital queues and 'intense' days in 'broken' system

Staff were striking outside Ambulance Station in Taunton.

"People don't realise how tough the job is. It's not nice holding a mother's hand who's child has just died."

Those are the words of one ambulance worker on the picket line in Somerset today (21 December).

Speaking to ITV News West Country in Taunton, some said they've never felt so under pressure and are striking to improve things for patients.

Michelle Varcoe is a lead paramedic who has worked for the NHS for 11 years.

She is one of thousands of ambulance workers on strike across the country in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

She says the last few months have been "incredibly intense", saying a lot of her time is spent queuing outside the hospital for hours with patients.

"We can spend three to four hours locally [in Taunton] and in some places even longer," she said. "On the other side of the county we tend to spend a whole shift waiting."

"It can be quite strenuous and it's not fair on the patients to be sat waiting in the back of ambulances for such a long amount of time.

"It's more of a need to strike than a want to strike today."

But despite the demand, pressures and burnout, Michelle says she will not quit the service - although she told ITV News West Country she knows others who have.

Chad Chadwick is an advanced technician and has worked for the NHS for 16 years.

Speaking from the picket line at Taunton Ambulance Station, he told ITV News: "I've never known anything like it. The state of the service, the pressures we are facing - it's important that people know that we are prepared to take action.

"It's certainly not all about the pay. We don't do the job for the money. The system is just broken."

He added: "We don't want claps on our backs we just want to do a good service for our patients, get their timely so we can actually make a difference.

"People don't realise how tough the job is. It's not nice holding a mother's hand who's child has just died."

It comes as South Western Ambulance Service declared a critical incident yesterday, saying it had 500 people waiting for ambulances with dozens more waiting in ambulances to be admitted to hospital.

South Western Ambulance Service chief executive Will Warrender apologised for slower than usual response times.

He said: "We know there are patients waiting for an ambulance, and we will get to you as soon as we can.

"We are sorry that we are unable to respond as quickly as we would like.

"We are doing all we can to manage winter pressures and the upcoming industrial action, including receiving military support during industrial action days which will allow our ambulance clinicians to be manning more ambulances and reach patients more quickly."

Health Secretary Steve Barclay says the government is not to blame for any harm that comes to members of the public during the walkout.

Instead, he accused unions of making a conscious choice to harm patients - a comment that the Unite union called a "blatant lie"

Mr Barclay said: "It’s the trade unions that have made a decision not to give a national undertaking to cover all of the emergency calls, to leave that to individual decisions with local trusts and with call handlers in terms of some of those emergency calls that will be responded."

"The government has put in place the contingency measures that it can."