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Ambulance strikes: Why have they been called off and could more strikes happen?

GMB, Unison and Unite members in the ambulance service are suspending planned strikes for later in March  (Joshua Bratt/PA)
GMB, Unison and Unite members in the ambulance service are suspending planned strikes for later in March (Joshua Bratt/PA)

Ambulance workers who are members of the Unite union have suspended strikes planned for this month shortly after the Unison and GMB unions did so, meaning that no ambulance union is currently planning strikes.

Unite announced it would suspend its strikes on Sunday. The decision followed Unison and GMB’s decision to halt industrial action on Friday. Two days of planned strike action were due to take place on March 6 and 20.

The strikes were called off so unions could negotiate with the Government but union bosses have warned that further strikes could take place “with a vengeance” if the talks fail.

Why have unions called off the ambulance strikes?

Union bosses have called off the strikes following conversations with the Government.

Gail Cartmail, Unite’s head of operations, said: “Following further assurances from the government over the weekend Unite has in good faith agreed to pause the strike action. If the meeting doesn’t meet these assurances strike action will resume.”

Meanwhile, Rachel Harrison, GMB’s national secretary, said: “GMB ambulance workers announced a tightening of the derogations for cover on strike days. Less than 24 hours later we received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, inviting us and other unions to pay talks.

“This is a huge shift from the Government, who for months have refused to consider negotiations on pay. Now, they are saying they are willing to sit down and talk. The Government has given assurances of additional cash for both years above existing budgets and that any deal will respect the existing Agenda for Change structure.”

“GMB’s ambulance workers have agreed to suspend industrial action so talks can begin – however, the strike will return with a vengeance should talks break down.”

When were the ambulance strikes supposed to happen?

Ambulance workers in England were set to strike on March 6 and March 20. These included paramedics, ambulance technicians, emergency care assistants and other 999 crew members.

These strikes would have followed 24-hour strikes that took place in January and February. Alongside ambulance staff walkouts, several other NHS workforces were set to strike.

Why did ambulance staff want to strike?

The dispute is between the unions and the Government over pay levels, staffing, and concerns about staff leaving the health service.

How much do ambulance staff earn?

Unions are calling for pay rises higher than four per cent, which is offered to most under the NHS Agenda for Change pay structure, which they say amounts to a real-terms pay cut.

Ambulance workers are calling for a higher pay increase than the £1,400 being offered.

For newly qualified paramedics and those with experience, different bands of pay are on the NHS pay scale, with salaries dependent on where in the country they are.

Band 5 on the NHS pay scale includes newly qualified paramedics with a starting salary of £27,055, rising to £32,934 in most of the UK.

In London, newly qualified paramedics earn between £31,163 and £37,875.

Experienced paramedics working for at least two years are in Band 6 of the pay scale. They earn £33,706 a year, rising to £35,572 after two years, and up to £40,588 after five.

In London, experienced paramedics earn between £38,762 and £45,765.

What emergency help is available during ambulance strikes?

Although these strikes have been called off, during previous strikes the unions agreed to respond to all category one calls, which involve the most life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrests.

Some trusts also said they would make exemptions for certain category two incidents, such as stroke and chest pain.

Pregnant women who were very close to their due date were encouraged to plan their travel in case they go into labour during the strikes.

The public had been advised to take sensible steps to keep themselves and others safe during this period, including not drinking excessively and checking up on vulnerable people in their communities.

Dr Adrian Boyle, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, encouraged people to drive suspected stroke victims to hospital.

People had been told to call 999 for only life-threatening problems and to use 111 online as a first port of call for everything else.