Sunak ordered to 'come out of hiding' and end 999 strike as ambulance workers walk out for third time in five weeks

23 January 2023, 05:27 | Updated: 23 January 2023, 08:34

Ambulance workers are due to strike again in February as the row over staffing and pay escalates
Ambulance workers are due to strike again in February as the row over staffing and pay escalates. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Rishi Sunak has been told to "come out of hiding" and negotiate with striking ambulance workers.

The Unite union's general secretary said the Prime Minister had effectively gone missing and left them having to negotiate "over the airwaves".

Sharon Graham told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "Quite frankly, the Prime Minister is missing in action.

"It's been five weeks since Unite last went out on strike in terms of the ambulance service and we have had not one offer from the Government.

"There has been not one meeting that has been about 22/23 pay and quite frankly we are almost negotiating with the Government on the airwaves.

Unite boss slams 'missing in action' PM as she calls on Rishi to 'come out of hiding'

"What I'm calling on today is for Rishi Sunak to come out of hiding to do his job as the leader of this country and start negotiating on this particular dispute."

Asked about striking workers' views on former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi's tax affairs, Ms Graham said the Government was acting like "a crowd of naughty children".

Ambulance workers are on strike again for the third time in five weeks today in an escalating row over working conditions, pay and staffing.

Brits across the country have once again been told to only call 999 if seriously ill or in a life-threatening condition during the strike, which is set to start at 7am.

Up to 15,000 Unison ambulance workers will go on strike and will be joined by 5,000 of their NHS colleagues at two hospital trusts in Liverpool.

From 7am, paramedics, emergency care assistants, ambulance technicians, other 999 crew members and control room staff across five services in England - London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West - will join picket lines.

It comes after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was told he can halt industrial action and begin solving the staffing emergency if he comes up with new money to pay health workers "fairly".

Jeremy Hunt has been accused of "resisting" a pay deal with unions
Jeremy Hunt has been accused of "resisting" a pay deal with unions. Picture: Getty

Unison, meanwhile, has warned Mr Hunt that strikes will rumble on for several more months if he continues to 'resist appeals to release extra cash'.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: "The solution to the growing NHS crisis is staring the Government in the face.

"It's simple, all the Chancellor needs to do is find the money to pay health workers fairly.

"The public wants the Government to end the dispute, so do NHS staff, but most ministers look like they'd rather dig in and do nothing instead of boost pay and help turn the ailing NHS around.

"Higher wages would stop experienced employees leaving for better paid jobs and encourage more people to come and work in the NHS.

"With more staff, ambulance response times would improve, and patient waits for treatment shorten. Everyone would be a winner."

She continued: "It's strange that it's the Chancellor blocking progress. Jeremy Hunt knows the NHS better than anyone in the Cabinet.

"As health secretary, he negotiated the wage deal to end the 2015 NHS strike and pushed for fair pay when Health Select Committee chair. But as Chancellor he's chosen to forget all that.

"Jeremy Hunt knows improved wages are critical to solving the NHS staffing emergency. He must come out of hiding and unlock the funding to end the strikes. Then the focus can be on nursing the NHS back to good health."

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Almost 1,000 ambulance workers across the West Midlands in the GMB union will strike, including paramedics and emergency care assistants.

Stuart Richards, GMB senior organiser, said: "West Midlands ambulance workers' message is clear - the Government must talk pay now.

"While the NHS crumbles around our ears - despite ambulance workers' desperate efforts - we have been waiting two weeks today for another meeting with ministers."

Meanwhile, Unite's general secretary Sharon Graham accused the government yesterday of having a "sinister" motive for not engaging with unions to end strike action.

"This employer, being the government, is not interested in doing a deal as far as the NHS is concerned," she told Sky News.

"I have to say we are concluding now that there must be a much more sinister reason for this because this level of self-harm is unprecedented."

When pressed, she said: "I think that they are looking to privatise the NHS."

Ambulance staff are on strike today
Ambulance staff are on strike today. Picture: Getty
Striking Nurses on Picket Line hold placards expressing...
Striking Nurses on Picket Line hold placards expressing... Picture: Getty

Today's ambulance strike will not be the last course of industrial action taken by NHS workers. Tomorrow, ambulance staff in the GMB union will go on strike in north-west England.

On February 6, members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will take industrial action over pay. On the same day, ambulance staff in the GMB union will strike in seven of the 10 English services and the national Welsh service, while Unite staff strike in four across England and Wales.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: "It is hugely disappointing some ambulance workers are continuing to take industrial action.

"While we have contingency plans in place to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be further disruption.

"It is important people continue coming forward for treatment - call 999 in life-threatening emergencies and use NHS 111 online, local pharmacies and GP services for non-life-threatening care.

"I have had constructive talks with unions about this coming year's pay process for 2023/24, and am keen to continue talking about what is affordable and fair."