NHS pledges to maintain 999 cover while nurses and paramedics strike

PMQs: Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer clash over nurses' strikes

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He insisted the Government is keeping the public “as safe as possible” and has set out plans for 1,200 armed forces personnel to drive ambulances and provide cover for striking Border Force staff.

But there were warnings that ambulances might only arrive if there is “an immediate risk to life”.

Other patients are urged to seek advice over the phone or use “alternative transport” to get to hospital.

Mr Barclay insisted that giving in to pay demands would damage the NHS by “taking money away from frontline services at a time when we are tackling record waiting lists”.

Rejecting union claims that the Government is refusing to negotiout ate, Mr Barclay said: “I have done my utmost to listen to the concerns raised by unions and hold a dialogue throughout this dispute.”

He told a newspaper: “Despite their claims, some union leaders would rather grandstand on picket lines and in television studios than sit down and have a constructive conversation. Strikes are in no one’s interests, least of all patients. I am concerned some unions representing ambulance crews are being less than co-operative in negotiations about staff cover on strike days.”

Ambulance workers in England will strike on Wednesday and again on December 28. It comes after nurses last week held their first ever strike over pay, with another walk-out planned for Tuesday.

The Government is deploying 600 armed forces personnel to drive ambulances and another 150 to provide logistical support, while volunteers trained as community first responders will help keep medical services running. Other members of the forces will carry border checks to ensure ports and airports continue operating.

Mr Barclay said: “NHS staff do an incredible job and it is deeply regrettable some union members are going ahead with strike action.

“My priority is to keep patients as safe as possible and we are stepping up preparations across government and the NHS, including making best use of the armed forces, volunteers and freeing up capacity to mitigate disruption and ensure safe staffing levels.”

He said people who need emergency and life-threatening care should continue to come forward as normal, or use NHS 111 online.

Advice from the Government urges patients to only call 999 on strike days when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk, while patients in a “non-life-threatening” situation are urged to use the 111 website or phone line.

The Cabinet Office will today publish a new Resilience Framework, bringing together all levels of government to “bolster” preparedness for industrial action.

Senior ministers insist they will not back down in the nurses’ dispute. The Royal College of Nursing is calling for an increase of five per cent above RPI inflation, currently 14 percent, which would mean a 19 percent pay rise.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “The effect will be cumulative. It will be harder and harder for hospitals to avoid an impact on outcomes for cancer patients.”

Health chiefs, including Sir David Sloman, NHS England’s chief operating officer, have written to hospital trusts urging them to free up beds by discharging patients.

But Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said this would be difficult because hospitals have no spare capacity.

He said: “We run our hospitals very tight. It’s not just about social care but about making sure our hospitals are big enough to cope.”

Public sector strikes have already caused havoc. Rail services were cut or cancelled yesterday as the RMT union continued its action.

Train drivers are planning further walkouts between December 24 and 27, as well as on New Year’s Eve and in early January.

Government sources believe they are close to ending the rail dispute, and argue the RMT looks isolated after Unite and TSSA accepted pay deals from Network Rail. Industry leaders representing pubs, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops warned strikes have already cost them £1.5billion in lost revenue.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “We think £1.5billion will have been lost in the past week and there will be additional amounts lost on the other strike days to come.”

Staff Christmas parties have been axed and more than half of events booked in London venues had been cancelled, she said.

Nightclub and restaurant owner Wayne Lineker, brother of football pundit Gary, told GB News: “We’ve got several venues and they are really suffering in the train strikes.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised new anti-strike laws which could include requiring public sector staff to provide a minimum level of service, but these will come too late for this wave of action.”

Get your meds early

People are being reminded to check they have enough of their regular medicines for the Christmas break, and to stock up on over-the-counter essentials such as painkillers.

With many chemists closed on December 26 and 27, repeat prescription requests may need to be made early.

As many GP practices are shut too, obtaining medical advice and prescriptions will take longer and the NHS 111 helpline is likely to be busy.

Ifti Khan, of the Well Pharmacy chain, said: “Plan ahead more than ever.”

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