'Ambulance services across the country are at breaking point'

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Ambulance workers have told of the huge pressure on services after walking out for 12 hours.

Paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers held their latest strike on January 11, from 7am to 7pm, following similar action on December 21, in a row over pay and conditions.

The Government says most ambulance staff have already received a rise of at least 4 per cent, increasing average basic pay per person to about £34,300.

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Howver, about 2,000 East Midlands Ambulance Service workers – around half its total workforce – took part in the latest wave of action to push the Government for an above-inflation pay rise and highlight ongoing NHS pressures.

East Midlands Ambulance Service staff on the picket line.East Midlands Ambulance Service staff on the picket line.
East Midlands Ambulance Service staff on the picket line.

Ambulance technician Rachael Dexter, who has worked for EMAS, which serves Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, as well as Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, for three years, said: “For me, it’s not just about pay, we ate understaffed and under-resourced. We need more funding, more ambulances and more staff.

“Hospitals are rammed at the moment, it’s not their fault but there’s a big shortage in social care which stops people going home, which has a knock-on effect on us.

“We are in a queue waiting to hand someone over and while we’re there we hear immediately life-threatening calls none of us can respond to. It’s frustrating.”

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Lance Allen, an ambulance technician who has worked for EMAS for five years, said: “Ambulance services across the country are at breaking point, we’re knackered, we’re exhausted, but still doing our best.

“We are going to people who would usually wait two hours on the floor and now they are waiting eight-10 hours. We are seeing that more often than not.

“I used to be able to do four jobs in the first six hours of my shift. Now I’m lucky if I get to do one.

“Once we are with a patient we cannot leave them until we have handed them over, we will have our radios on so control will give us shutouts.

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“We are hearing more and more of these shout outs for category one calls – immediate life-threatening calls – and the nearest resource for a call in Nottingham can be 45 minutes away, because it’s coming from somewhere like Worksop.”

Mark Dawn, GMB EMAS branch secretary and a trained paramedic, said: “If not now, when? At some point this will grind to a halt.

“Ambulances are outside hospitals for up to 10 hours with people on board. Why is that allowed to be the case?

“In December the government weren’t talking at all, now they’ve started to talk a little bit. They need to talk more.

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“The sooner the government addresses this the sooner it ends.”

EMAS said strike days are “immensely challenging”, but it had been working with “trade union colleagues, and NHS and blue-light service providers across the region to minimise the impact on patient safety”.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “The ambulance strike is an unwelcome return to unnecessary disruption and comes at a time when the NHS is already under huge pressure from Covid and flu.”