'I wouldn't be here without them' - woman saved by ambulance staff joins picket line

Christine says she owes her life to the ambulance service
Christine says she owes her life to the ambulance service Credit: ITV News

A woman helped by ambulance staff in an emergency joined striking ambulance workers on the picket line today saying the service "saved her life".

Christine Banks needed help after she fell down her stairs last year.

She said: "They deserve the amount that they're asking for simply because in my situation, if they hadn't been around, I wouldn't be standing here talking to you."

It comes as ambulance workers across the South West went on strike today for the third time in five weeks.

The South Western Ambulance Service warned people to only call 999 in a genuine emergency, as a dispute over pay and staffing remained unresolved.

Staff were on picket lines up and down the country, including in Somerset and Devon.

Kirsty Melluish, an ambulance dispatcher on the picket line in Exeter, today said the health service is "beyond ridiculous".

She said: "I don’t feel like an emergency service because I can’t send emergency ambulances out. We’ve got calls waiting for hours and hours on end."

Jimmy spoke about the frustrations of being an ambulance dispatcher Credit: ITV News

Ambulance dispatcher, Jimmy Clancy, said: "It’s incredibly frustrating when you come in for your shift and all you’re told at the beginning of your shift is that all of your resources are

going straight over to hospital to take over from the crews there all night.

"It’s frustrating when you go away for 12 hours or 24 hours and then you come back to work and see the same patient is still waiting in the queue for an ambulance.

"I mean to look at sometimes 60, 70 sometimes even 100 jobs to be allocated."

While Tim Ebdon, an emergency care assistant said: "It doesn’t feel right be ing on the picket line but this is a broken system – what are we meant to do?"

Paramedics on the picket line in Taunton, including Chay Farzaneh and Michelle Varcoe, said their job is their vocation and the strikes are important to them.

Chay said: "Two years ago, the government were asking for the public's help to protect the NHS to save lives and where are they now?

"We feel the government needs to take action. They need to look at the situation and we need to protect our NHS."

Michelle said: "We're getting a very good amount of support. People are coming by with biscuits, sweets, chocolates.

"They're stopping to talk to us and show their support publicly that they are behind us and they are backing us and that's really, really great for us to hear."

Lead paramedics, Chay and Michelle, on a picket line in Taunton Credit: ITV News

Striking workers didn't mean no ambulances today - with paramedics going to life-threatening emergencies, even if that meant crossing the picket line.

Services like the Minor Injuries Unit at Bridgwater Community Hospital are taking on a key role on strike days, with people being urged to seek out services like this unless they are seriously injured or unwell and need to call 999.

NHS staff in England and Wales have received an average pay increase of 4.75% but are calling for one to keep up with inflation, currently around 10%.

That gap means the sight of public sector workers on strike is likely to be seen many more times in the coming weeks.