Ambulance workers across Black Country walkout in pay dispute as some turn to food banks

Paramedics staging a walkout said they hope the action over pay and conditions will save the NHS after seeing struggling colleagues turning to food banks.

Ambulance strike at the Dudley hub, in Burton Road
Ambulance strike at the Dudley hub, in Burton Road

West Midlands Ambulance Service workers based at the hub, in Burton Road, Dudley, on Monday spoke of their frustration over spending hours queuing with patients outside hospitals, and seeing critical response targets missed and disillusioned colleagues walk away from their careers.

Ambulance strike at the Dudley hub, in Burton Road

Pickets were in operation across the region including service hubs in Ashmore Lake Way, in Willenhall; Kelvin Way, in West Bromwich, and, in Burton Road, in Dudley.

Unite paramedic representative Jason Kirkham said: "I am on the picket because I'm trying to save to NHS from the Tory government which is trying to make the service unviable by not putting in place a retention plan to support the staff.

"They won't even accept that there is a crisis in the NHS. We want them to have meaningful conversations with unions and come up with a strategy to tackle recruitment and also a strategy to support social care. It is a big problem the service is under-funded with social care having to rely on private providers and carers who are being paid the minimum wage.

"There is a massive social care crisis and the two things go hand in hand.

"We have opened a food bank at our hub and staff who can afford it bring in food supplies because we've had some say they can't afford to feed their families. The other side is that ambulances cannot unload at A&E and as a result patients are waiting a long time. I have never experienced the hand over delays that which we've seen in December and January in 20 years. Delays were happening even before the Covid pandemic when waiting lists were building up. "

Ambulance technician Sally Husselbee, of the GMB, has been working for the service in various roles for 25 years and said the strike action had so far attracted "phenomenal public support" which the government needed to take notice of.

Ambulance strike at the Dudley hub, in Burton Road

"People are leaving to work in other industries for more money. They can get jobs with a fast-food company for better pay and conditions. Many staff are staying three to five years and then they leave.

Midlands Ambulance University NHS Foundation Trust yesterday continued to respond to medical and mental health call outs.emergencies and advised the public to use its services wisely by using NHS 111 in cases where there is no threat to life.

Another technician, who did not want to be named, added: "Staff are leaving hand over fist. Wards and emergency rooms are unsafe because there is insufficient staff. I've had a 92-year-old uncle who was waiting on a trolley in hospital for 48 hours for a bed. We need the NHS to remain for all. We all use it.

"I want it to be here for my adult children and my grandchildren

Association of Ambulance Chief Executives director Martin Flaherty said:“Ambulance leaders are clear that it is now vital that negotiations are successfully concluded between the Government and unions to prevent ongoing industrial action, which ultimately leads to a reduction in the quality of NHS patient care and more unnecessary harm to patients.

“But as with all industrial disputes there is always a route to resolution, however difficult that path may seem.

“We have always been clear that the dispute is not only about pay, but is also about the working conditions of our staff. The ambulance sector no longer has sufficient resourcing to manage its demand and is also severely hampered by hospital handover delays.

"We have seen some recent improvements in handover delays - especially during the days on which strike action has taken place – which proves that it can be done and we would urge health systems to take the learning from those improvements and ensure they are applied daily going forward. In short, we can and must eradicate these unnecessary handover delays at hospital emergency departments if we are to prevent further deaths and serious harm coming to patients.

“We are also clear that more investment in capacity is required urgently to ensure that ambulance services can consistently deliver the care that patients deserve."

More walk outs are due to on February 6 and 17 and March 6 and 20.

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