Elderly people who fall over at home 'unlikely to get an ambulance' amid Christmas NHS strikes

6 December 2022, 23:31 | Updated: 6 December 2022, 23:33

Elderly people may struggle to get an ambulance if they fall this winter
Elderly people may struggle to get an ambulance if they fall this winter. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Elderly people who suffer falls at home will be lucky to get an ambulance when NHS workers go on strike this month.

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Ambulance workers are walking out on December 21 along with other NHS staff.

Paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff will also take part in action on December 28.

'Life and limb' cover - essentially potentially deadly conditions - will still be provided, but stretched ambulance staff will not treat issues like falls with the same importance, the Telegraph reported.

An NHS source said: “Without a clear agreement that they should be exempt, elderly patients who have called an ambulance following a fall could be left waiting longer or not be responded to at all during the strike period as they wouldn’t typically be included under category one and two calls.

Ambulance workers will go on strike in United Kingdom
Ambulance workers will go on strike in United Kingdom. Picture: Getty

“We’ve got the system of category one, category two, which says these are the life threatening illnesses – but if it was my mum who lived 70 miles away from me, who called an ambulance on a strike day and I was 70 miles away, the niceties of a category one call would be completely lost on me.”

More than 10,000 staff across nine trusts are due to take part in the strikes - the latest to be called for December in the UK - as one union warned of a "winter of NHS strikes".

They are angry at the Government’s offer of a 4% pay rise at a time of soaring inflation, which unions said would amount to a "massive" wage cut in real terms.

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The UK's top charity representing elderly people called on "all the parties" involved to continue negotiating to avoid the strikes.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, said: “The news that ambulance services are to strike in some areas will be extremely destabilising for many older people, because knowing there’s a functioning NHS safety net there for them if something bad happens helps give them confidence to live independently at home.

“It is the responsibility of all the parties, including the Government, to urgently get round the table and secure a settlement for this dispute so these strikes don’t happen.”

Ambulances queue outside the accident and emergency department of the Bath Royal United Hospital
Ambulances queue outside the accident and emergency department of the Bath Royal United Hospital. Picture: Getty

Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, warned that prioritising patients during strike action would be “very difficult”.

“On a personal level, I have had the scenario of my mother-in-law falling over and being on the floor for hours, waiting for an ambulance – and that’s without any strikes.

“That is completely unacceptable. You are almost condemning people to death by this sort of approach.”

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, called on health secretary Steve Barclay to negotiate to avoid a strike.

"Ambulance workers – like other NHS workers – are on their knees," she said.

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"Demoralised and downtrodden, they’ve faced twelve years Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, fought on the frontline of a global pandemic and now face the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.

"No one in the NHS takes strike action lightly – today shows just how desperate they are.

"This is as much about unsafe staffing levels and patient safety as it is about pay. A third of GMB ambulance workers think delays they’ve been involved with have led to the death of a patient.

"Something has to change or the service as we know it will collapse. GMB calls on the Government to avoid a Winter of NHS strikes by negotiating a pay award that these workers deserve."

Her members will walk out at:

  • South West Ambulance Service
  • South East Coast Ambulance Service
  • North West Ambulance Service
  • South Central Ambulance Service
  • North East Ambulance Service
  • East Midlands Ambulance Service
  • West Midlands Ambulance Service
  • Welsh Ambulance Service
  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service

Speaking last week, Mr Barclay said ambulance pay demands were not affordable.

"I deeply regret some ambulance staff will be taking industrial action – this is in nobody’s best interests as winter approaches," he said on November 30.

"Economic circumstances mean unions demands are not affordable - each additional 1% pay rise for non-medical staff would cost around £700m a year.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Tuesday
Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Tuesday. Picture: Getty

Read more: 'Christmas disaster' rail strikes to cost pubs, restaurants and railways £1.5 billion, as workers set to walk out over pay

"My door is open to discuss with unions ways we can make the NHS a better place to work.

"Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes and the NHS has tried and tested plans to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate."

Read more: 'We need answers': Labour demands 'truth' of £200 million PPE contracts after Tory peer takes 'leave of absence'

Nurses, rail workers, and postal staff have all called strikes somewhere in the UK as union members fear for their livelihoods thanks to inflation.

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents civil servants, is planning strikes in a bid to secure a 10% pay rise.