Further strikes inevitable unless government holds talks and moves on NHS pay

Ambulance workers on the picket line in Bournemouth

Two further strike days involving South West Ambulance Service staff are to take place in the new year, says their union UNISON today.

Ambulance workers belonging to UNISON are to take action over pay and staffing again in January. Staff will be called out on strike on Wednesday 11 and Monday 23 January 2023.

UNISON members employed by services in London, Yorkshire, the North West and North East will also walk out.

This follows a noon to midnight strike yesterday and is a direct result of the government’s repeated refusal to negotiate improvements to NHS pay this year, says UNISON.

The two dates next month are, as UNISON has warned, an escalation of this week’s action. The January strikes will each be for 24 hours from midnight to midnight and involve all ambulance employees, not just the 999 response crews, as was the case yesterday.

Many of the services’ employees are likely to be exempted from the action under emergency cover plans to be drawn up locally by each ambulance employer, working with UNISON, says the union.

Commenting on the new strike dates, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s only through talks that this dispute will end. No health workers want to go out on strike again in the new year.

“But accusing NHS staff of making a conscious decision to inflict harm on the public by taking action this week was not the health secretary’s finest hour.

“Neither was it a particularly smart move for Steve Barclay to falsely accuse health unions of failing to deliver a national emergency cover plan. The secretary of state knew full well life and limb cover arrangements were being agreed locally by ambulance managers and unions.

“It’s time Steve Barclay stopped with the insults and fibs and called the unions in for proper talks about improving NHS pay.

“Speeding up next year’s pay review body process won’t solve the current dispute, which is about the pitiful amount the government gave health workers this year.

“The government must stop using the pay review body as cover for its own inaction. This year’s pay rise simply wasn’t enough to halt the exodus of staff from the NHS.

“The government should right that wrong with an increase better matching inflation. Only then will vacancy rates reduce, allowing the NHS to get back on track and start delivering safe patient care once more.”

After the festive break, the union is also to begin to ask around 13,000 staff in ten English NHS trusts if they’re prepared to take strike action in the spring over the government’s failure to deliver a proper pay rise this year.

This is because the turnout in the previous strike ballot, the results of which were announced last month, fell just below the threshold required by law, says UNISON.

This includes all the remaining five ambulance services in England – the West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, South East Coast and South Central. There will also be a re-ballot of staff working for the Welsh Ambulance Service, says UNISON.

Health workers belonging to UNISON and employed at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Liverpool Women’s Hospital, London’s Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the North West-based Bridgewater Community Trust are being asked to vote again. There will also be a re-ballot of UNISON members working for the NHS Blood and Transplant service.