‘Huge support from public’ – say striking ambulance strikers

23rd December 2022 by https://wrp.org.uk/

Deptford ambulance strikers say the public is completely in support of their struggle

Thousands of ambulance workers, paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians and other 999 crew members in Britain held a one-day strike on Wednesday.

Ambulance staff working for five services in England – London, Yorkshire, North West, North East and South West – took part in the industrial action over pay and staffing.

There was a very lively picket at Deptford Ambulance Station and continuous hoots of support from passing drivers on the busy Old Kent Road in south east London.

Tim Fisher, Unison rep at the station, told News Line: ‘There is huge support from the public. Even when we went out to a family who had been waiting 16 hours for an ambulance, they were completely in support of what we are doing.

‘People understand that we are fighting for the health service as a whole and want to be able to give a proper service to the public.

‘All of the union leaders including our own general secretary Christine McAnea have made themselves available for talks, but the government refuses to talk about pay.

‘And pay is an important issue. Some people here are only now on the London Living Wage.

‘They transferred from the private sector which was paying them even less. How can you retain and recruit staff when you’re paying low wages?

‘It’s a systemic problem. They are quite happy to spend billions on Ukraine, but not to give a pay rise to essential workers, or to maintain the NHS.’

At Chase Farm’s lively picket in Enfield north London, Unison rep Richard Ferro told News Line: ‘Even during Covid we were attending 6-8 patients a day.

‘In the last few months it’s been 2-3 patients and sitting at the hospital for hours waiting for a bed or staff to come and help us. Our local hospital is Barnet so patients wait in ambulances in the car park.

‘At the North Middlesex we’ve got a corridor which is warmer. It’s not what any of us joined up for. We understand that the hospitals are under gigantic pressure.

‘It’s not just about pay, it’s the Tory government underfunding the NHS with 10 years of cuts. Today we are on strike but at the same time we’re on duty for the very sick.

‘Before when we were on strike private companies were used to fill in and now they’ve got their own little contracts to do. London Ambulance Service is employing more of these, to do what was our work. Even DHL does ambulance work.

‘I think this a government ploy to privatise the NHS.

‘They’ve closed hospitals down left, right and centre. I’ve never heard of them creating more hospitals. At Chase Farm they sold half the land and built a school. They now only take minor injuries.’

When asked about a general strike, he said: ‘It would make a massive difference.’

On the picket line at Edmonton, in north London, Unison Eastern Regional Secretary, Tim Roberts told News Line: ‘Members are on strike today basically to save the NHS.

‘The workforce crisis is caused by years of low pay having an effect on every single ambulance, hospital and community trust. Patient care is being affected.

‘Waiting times are their worst ever. Category 2 cases such as strokes, potential heart attacks and serious burns should be responded to within 18 minutes and across southern England the average is nearly 2 hours.

‘Years of mismanagement and underfunding by the Tories have brought the service to breaking point.

‘Unison supports all workers rights to take industrial action.

‘Rather than the government making strike laws the most restrictive in Europe, they should understand the reasons why workers feel they have no choice but to go on strike.

‘The government needs to get round the negotiating table and agree a decent pay rise. What’s on the table is a 4% pay rise and that’s a real terms pay cut and workers can’t afford it.’

Unison general secretary Christine McAnea joined the mass picket at Waterloo ambulance station in central London, where she said: ‘The peer review body announcement at the end of July was put into people’s pay packets in September.

‘It delivered about 4-4.5% when inflation’s been running at 10-11%. And we’ve been trying to negotiate with the government since then.

‘We’ve been asking them all the time to sit and talk to us about what to do about pay. They’ve consistently avoided speaking to us about pay. Not even a glimmer.

‘They’re willing to talk about everything else but pay. And we’ve got to the point where there’s no other option.

‘We’ve balloted our members and an industrial action ballot in this country takes over 10 weeks. So, we haven’t deliberately picked Christmas time, it just happens to be the time where were able to take strike action.’

Jo Galloway, Unison Regional Secretary in the Greater London Region told News Line: ‘Our members absolutely did not want to be in a position where they had to take strike action today. If you think about who NHS workers are, if you think about who paramedics are, they’re people who care.

‘They got into their jobs because they want to help people and support them, particularly those who need it the most.

‘They do not want to be in this position but unfortunately the government is refusing to negotiate, they’re refusing to sit down with us and talk and have meaningful discussions, instead they’re closing their eyes and hoping it goes away.

‘There’s already a high-level of vacancies across the NHS and the ambulance trust as well. People are leaving because they can’t continue and part of that is about pay.

‘If you’re worried about how you’re going to pay the bills, you’re not going to be a 100% at your job and what is already a highly stressful job will become even more stressful.

‘If you talk to any of our paramedics here, they will tell you about how they regularly sit in ambulance queues for hours outside A&Es. And they are sat with patients who need medical care, they’re in pain, they need support, and our paramedics are trying to give them everything they can, but they’re sitting there helpless because the system is broken.

‘This is also about really shining a light on what’s needed in order to keep the NHS running.

‘We cannot overlook the psychological toll of our members not being able to do the job they signed up to do due to a broken system. It’s a huge level of stress.

‘It has a massive impact on their mental health, and they feel helpless and frustrated because all of this is out of their control.

‘They wake up every day, they go to work in order to go to the van and go to people who are often in pain, scared and fearful. If they’re unable to help, that has a huge impact on how they think about their jobs, and it trickles into all aspects of their professional and home lives as well.’

Kate Pitfield, a paramedic in Sheffield said: ‘I have spent the last 3 days off anxious about the implication of striking and about going to work in terrible conditions. I went to an elderly patient with a broken femur who had waited 6 hours and a cardiac sounding chest pain that waited 5 hours for an ambulance.

‘We are constantly apologising for the wait time for us and at hospital. I worked 4 x 12 hour shifts last week. I saw only 14 patients in 48 (plus overtime) hours. I spent 18 hours queuing at hospitals. I was 3.5 hours late off a 12-hour shift, which is not safe for me or my colleagues to get home from.

‘None of us want any harm to come to our patients, but it already is.

‘We need better pay to have better and safe staffing levels, better staff retention and to be able to provide an actual emergency service. Also, nurses need this so much and they are incredible and at breaking point.