Thousands of ambulance workers in England and Wales begin strike as public warned to avoid ‘risky activities’ – live

Key events

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, told BBC Breakfast he wanted to “encourage our colleagues in the ambulance service in the trade unions to work as cooperatively as they can through today’s industrial action to try to minimise patient harm”.

These strikes come on top of the fact that we are already in a very challenging situation.

In most parts of the country the ambulance service is well away from meeting its targets for responses to those kind of category 2 cases – so not absolutely urgently, life threatening, but still very important urgent and critical cases.

So, this strike could not be happening at a worse time because of the pressures the NHS faces.

He urged the government and unions to reach an agreement, saying: “We cannot afford to drift into a winter of industrial action.”

Unions have blamed the need to strike on the government’s refusal to even engage with them on pay, while ministers have insisted they will not budge from their offer of a real-terms pay cut and portrayed the action in response as a choice by the unions.

Some decisions about what will be covered during strikes by ambulance workers will be taken on the day, the health secretary Steve Barclay has said, as he acknowledges he has prepared no national contingency plan for the industrial action. He has told Sky News:

The difficulty with putting contingency measures in place is given the uncertainty as to what exactly is and is not being covered, and the fact that those decisions in some cases will be taken on the day.

Thousands of ambulance workers take strike action

Thousands of ambulance workers in England and Wales are beginning a 24-hour strike action over real-terms salary cuts, describing last-minute talks with the government as “pointless” because the health secretary Steve Barclay refused to even discuss pay.

Nevertheless, Barclay has used an article in this morning’s edition of the Daily Telegraph to place the blame on the trade unions, accusing them of making a “conscious decision” to “inflict harm” on patients.

We now know that the NHS contingency plans will not cover all 999 calls. Ambulance unions have made a conscious choice to inflict harm on patients.

Union leaders insisted there would still be cover for the most serious calls through a series of local agreements during the strike; the first of two planned industrial actions. Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham said claims many serious calls would receive no response were “misleading” and “at worst deliberately scaremongering” by ministers.

Christina McAnea, the Unison general secretary, said that if there were any deaths during the strike it would “absolutely” be the fault of the government. “They have been totally irresponsible,” she told TalkTV. “It’s completely irresponsible of them to refuse to open any kind of discussions or negotiations with us.”

Earlier, the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, which collectively represent all NHS organisations, wrote to the prime minister warning they were entering “dangerous territory” and urging him to end to the deadlock.

The members of the three trade unions taking action today – Unison, Unite and the GMB – have been offered nominal pay rises of £1,400 each. These are, in effect, pay cuts because the roughly 4% nominal increase for most staff is far below inflation.

In evidence to the Commons health select committee, the GMB’s national secretary Rachel Harrison suggested the government upping its offer to 7.5% would be enough for the union to put to its membership to test if it was enough to end the impasse.

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