East Midlands Ambulance Workers on a picket line in Lincoln say they “just want to help people” and aren’t able to under current working conditions, as strike action takes place outside the city’s blue lights hub on Wednesday.
Trade unions representing ambulance staff across England and Wales commenced strike action over pay terms, working conditions and job security on Wednesday, with accusations that neither the government or the unions are willing to budge on negotiations.
A picket line formed at Lincoln’s Ambulance, Fire and Police Station on South Park on Wednesday, with GMB Union members who work for East Midlands Ambulance Service taking part.
An expected 2,000 EMAS workers walked out today to take part in the strike action, and in anticipation of the impact, along with ongoing pressures around waiting times, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust declared a critical incident.
The GMB union claims that the government’s imposed 4% pay award for staff translates to a real terms pay cut in line with inflation and considering the current rising cost of living – but concerns around where staff members are allocated on shifts are also at the forefront of the agenda for strikes.
Colleagues on shift who are taking part in the strike action will also be on call for category A calls, ensuring that staff will be readily available in case any serious incidents occur.
Melissa Farrell, an EMAS worker of nine years, was one of those on the picket line on Wednesday morning, using one of her rest days to support her colleagues in strike action.
She told The Lincolnite: “At the moment we are unable to get to the general public who truly need us and what is probably the worst day of their lives.
“I think the media have portrayed it a lot as being solely about pay, and it’s more about working conditions with the fact our hands are being tied with how busy we are – on a day to day basis it’s absolutely heartbreaking that we’re stuck on jobs that don’t necessarily need us because it’s not an accident or emergency.”
The strike announcement has faced criticism and support in equal measure from the general public, but EMAS workers say they have been affected by “negative press” surrounding the industrial action, particularly given the way key workers within the NHS were celebrated as heroes just two years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Melissa added: “I think there’s been a lot of negative press on the internet that I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks, but out on the picket line I’d say there seems to be large sections of the public in support of us.
“Working through COVID was really hard for everybody in the NHS, alongside any other key workers, we’re all a big team and people praised us as being heroes back then. I wouldn’t say we’re heroes, we’re just doing our jobs.
“I just think enough is enough now. We want to help people so we just need to get the staff, be paid correctly, though it’s not all about pay, it’s very difficult to attract new recruits and retain existing staff members.
“The main reason we’re striking, and I think I speak for everyone on the picket lines, is because we want to help people, we want to use our skills that we’ve been trained to do, and at the moment we aren’t really able to do so.”
Melissa said she did a seven and a half hour shift in the back of an ambulance outside Lincoln A&E last week, as well as an over nine hour shift the next day.
She continues: “We haven’t got enough staff, we haven’t got enough ambulances and I think we need to really look at what sort of jobs we’re going to now – we should be attending accidents and emergencies like it says on the ambulances.
“We’ve only got so many skills that we can use, and those are for accidents and emergencies. I’m here to support everybody and to let the general public know that we are here for them.
“The public are worried that we aren’t going to get to them because we’re striking, but that’s not true. We’re struggling every single day to get to patients that need us, and we want to be there for them.”
Ben Holdaway, Director of Operations at EMAS, said: “During the period of the dispute, we will do all we can to minimise the impact on patient safety and will continue to work very closely with trade union colleagues, regional service providers and NHS Employers.
“Our operational teams have developed contingency plans to aim to maximise the number of ambulance staff and volunteers we have available to respond to patients, as well as clinical staff able to carry out remote clinical assessments.
“However, we anticipate that on days where there is industrial action that there will still be fewer ambulances available and therefore our responses to our patients will, inevitably, be much slower on the day.
“Therefore our 999 control rooms, where possible, will carefully assess and prioritise an ambulance response for those who need it most, and this may only be where there is a threat to life.
“Patients should continue to call for an ambulance as normal if they experience a life-threatening emergency and should continue to access other more appropriate services for any other illnesses or injuries such as NHS111 online or contacting their local Urgent Treatment Centre.
“We fully respect the right of NHS staff to take lawful and peaceful industrial action, however we do urge national employer representatives and trade union colleagues to proactively engage and reach a negotiated settlement to the dispute as quickly as possible.”
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