People needing to go to accident and emergency tomorrow face having to order a taxi, get a lift from someone, or make their own way as ambulance staff strike, according to reports. A leaked North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) memo has warned staff there will be “a significant and noticeable difference” in the way they operate.
It says “confirmed” cases of cardiac arrest, “immediate threats to life”, and confirmed maternity emergencies would continue to get ambulance responses. However, “immediate self-conveyance or taxi conveyance will be advised in all other circumstances”, reports Manchester Evening News.
There will be no transfers of patients from walk-in centres, urgent care centres, care homes, and assisted living settings to A&E unless there is an immediate cardiac arrest or a threat to a person’s life, according to North West Ambulance Service bosses.
Members of the GMB, Unite, and Unison unions will take part in strike action on Wednesday, with the NWAS saying in the memo that a “large proportion” of its total workforce will be involved.
“We are taking steps to minimise the impact on the public and ensure we can respond to life-threatening emergencies during the periods of action, however we need you to be aware that there will be a significant and noticeable difference in the way we operate,” reads the memo.
It goes on to say bosses fear “operational challenges” for a further 48 hours and advises staff to plan for “72 hours of disruption”. Senior clinicians are expected to be located within control rooms to oversee 999 calls and make judgement calls on patients and who to respond to based on clinical need.
On the day of strike action, NWAS’ Patient Transport Service will only prioritise patients attending cancer, renal and palliative care appointments. “We want you to continue to ring 999 in a situation where there is an immediate threat to life.
Ged Blezard, Director of Operations, said in a statement today: “We have tried and tested plans to manage any disruption, including industrial action, however, it’s important to understand there will be an impact on the public.
“However, we are advising patients, that they should consider other forms of transport if they still need to go to a hospital. “We are maximising our own resources, using private provider and military support where appropriate and working closely with our Trade Unions to provide cover for the most serious emergencies.
“We are also working with our healthcare partners to maintain patient safety during these periods of industrial action. “Also, if you have already called 999 to request an ambulance, please only call back if your condition has worsened or to cancel the ambulance.
“Repeatedly calling 999 can block phone lines for other emergencies. “If you need urgent care – use the symptom checker at NHS 111 online, which will direct you to the most appropriate support. “Again, you should call on friends or relatives for transport if necessary.”
The GMB union is planning a second walk-out on December 28. All category 1 calls – the most life-threatening such as cardiac arrest- will be responded to, while some ambulance trusts have agreed exemptions with unions for specific incidents within category 2 which covers serious conditions, such as stroke or chest pain.
Military personnel are expected to be drafted in to cover for striking ambulance workers during the dispute. Meanwhile Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, today pleaded with unions to call off NHS strike action with a warning about the impact the walk-outs will have on people’s health.
The Prime Minister insisted the Government was “happy to sit down and talk” with unions but ministers have so far refused to discuss pay, one of the major factors behind the disputes. “I’m really disappointed to see that the unions are calling these strikes, particularly at Christmas, particularly when it has such an impact on people’s day-to-day lives with the disruption it causes and the impact on their health,” Mr Sunak said.
“I would urge them to keep considering whether these strikes are really necessary and do everything they can to alleviate the impact it’s going to have on people. “The Government, for its part, is being responsible in putting in place contingency measures to make sure we are well prepared to handle the disruption that is coming.”
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said trust leaders “genuinely understand why staff are choosing to strike, so I think they would urge the Government and the unions to get round the table and discuss pay”.
A meeting of the Cobra contingencies committee took place on Monday morning, with another planned for Wednesday as ministers consider how to cope with the wave of industrial action affecting not just the NHS but the rail network and other public services.
She said 999 calls “that affect life and limb will be answered” but “it’s worth remembering that this is going to be an incredibly challenging and disrupted week, not only because we have the ambulance service coming out on strike across nearly every region, but also because we’ve got these sequential strikes”.