UK ambulance workers have gone on strike, widening a dispute with the government over its refusal to increase pay above inflation after recent walkouts by nurses.
Healthcare leaders warned about straining a health system already in crisis as ambulance staff at the state-run National Health Service (NHS), including paramedics and call handlers, walked out on Wednesday.
Thousands of members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland took to picket lines on Tuesday, just five days after their first strike in its 106-year history.
Unions representing NHS nurses and ambulance workers have threatened further stoppages in the new year if the government keeps refusing to discuss pay.
About 40 staff formed a picket line outside West Midlands Ambulance Services’ hub in Longford in central England, standing behind a banner reading: “Our NHS is under siege”.
As passing ambulances sounded their horns in support, a Unite union representative, Steve Thompson, said the walkout was about trying to retain and improve services, as well as pay.
“This is about telling them [the government] that we are not going to allow it [a deterioration in services] to happen. We are not going to roll over.
Employees across the UK economy are demanding salary rises in the face of decades-high inflation – currently running at nearly 11 percent – which is spurring the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.
“We want the government to actually wake up and realise that this situation is serious.”
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, urged the public not to panic during strikes on Wednesday.
“It’s important to say that if you have a life-threatening emergency, you must call 999 and the trade unions have made absolutely clear they’ll respond to those,” he said.