Ambulance crews strike again in England, Wales

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Jan. 11 (UPI) — Ambulance crews, including drivers, paramedics, call handlers and technicians are striking Wednesday across parts of England and Wales, in a dispute over pay and staffing levels.

“Today’s strikes are an unwelcome return to disruption when the NHS is already under huge pressure. We have contingency plans to protect patients, but there will inevitably be an impact,” U.K. Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

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“Continue to call 999 for life-saving care and use NHS 111 online for urgent advice.”

Services in London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West are all taking part in the 24-hour job action.

Ambulance crews staged a similar strike in late December over working conditions, leading U.K. Minister of State for Health Will Quince to warn members of the public to avoid taking unneeded risks as tens of thousands of ambulance workers joined the picket lines.

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The union representing ambulance staff warned in December that its members would stage a similar strike Wednesday, as workers complain they have hit a breaking point.

The heads of several British unions representing public sector employees said that meetings with government leaders Monday ended with little progress toward averting a wave of nationwide strikes.

GMB, the third major union representing ambulance staff said more than 10,000 ambulance staff would go ahead with a planned strike after its national secretary, Rachel Harrison, said the talks fell “well short of anything substantial” that could bring them to a halt.

All ambulance employees across three separate unions, not just 999 response crews, are involved in Wednesday’s job action.

“I think morale is at an all-time low to be honest with you. We are coming to work and we know that we’re going to be queueing outside a hospital all day,” paramedic Katie Nelson told the BBC in an interview while picketing.

“We know patients are going to suffer, we know that we are going to be sitting there with one patient, hearing shout after shout on the radio for people who are really, really unwell and who really need our help – and all the ambulances are parked up like a car park outside a hospital.”

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The strikes are the latest in a series of high-profile labor actions in Britain, which has seen collective action from nurses and railway workers in recent months. The picketing ambulance workers say their salaries and working conditions have been affected by government spending cuts.