Armed forces set to rescue NHS under emergency plans for winter walkouts

28 November 2022, 06:35 | Updated: 28 November 2022, 07:46

Armed forces personnel would drive ambulances and fill frontline roles in hospitals under plans being drawn up
Armed forces personnel would drive ambulances and fill frontline roles in hospitals under plans being drawn up. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Armed forces personnel could drive ambulances and stand in for frontline hospital roles under emergency plans to deal with a possible winter of strikes.

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Health and defence officials are drawing up contingency plans as ambulance drivers and paramedics consider joining nurses on the picket lines in the coming months.

The Government could utilise the military aid to the civil authorities protocol (Maca) to keep key services in the NHS running during the mass walkouts, according to the Times.

Maca was used during the coronavirus pandemic to help struggling health staff with vaccines, testing and the delivery of protective equipment.

However, no formal request for help has been made as of yet by the Department of Health and Social Care to the Ministry of Defence.

Read more: NHS set to descend into chaos as nurses announce two days of walkouts in December

Read more: Scandal-hit NHS Trust 'allows patient to bang head for hours' despite failings leading to death of three teenage girls

Armed forces personnel could drive ambulances and stand in for frontline hospital roles
Armed forces personnel could drive ambulances and stand in for frontline hospital roles. Picture: Alamy

It comes as nurses are set to stage their first UK-wide strike action next month, as they join transport and postal workers on the picket lines in disputes over pay and conditions.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will walk out on December 15 and 20 if the dispute is not resolved.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has urged the nursing union to "come back to the table" for talks but he is declining to discuss pay, instead wanting to talk about conditions such as pension arrangements, holidays, rosters and the availability of free coffee.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen wrote to Mr Barclay telling him it is "negotiations or nothing".

Nurses are set to stage their first UK-wide strike action next month
Nurses are set to stage their first UK-wide strike action next month. Picture: Alamy

A Government spokeswoman said: "We are working with the NHS on a range of options to manage disruption to health and care services during industrial action.

"Hospitals will do everything they can to ensure patients and the public are kept safe, however planned appointments may need to be cancelled and emergency care prioritised to those in need of urgent care only."

The prospect of strikes being called off ahead of Christmas appeared bleak, as Transport Secretary Mark Harper said public sector pay rises in line with soaring inflation are "unaffordable".

The Cabinet minister said there "simply isn't the money" to meet the demands of workers preparing to take industrial action but hinted at progress in talks over rail strikes.

Mr Harper indicated a change in the mandate for negotiations and said pay rises could come if rail workers accept reforms, after holding "positive" talks with Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch.

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