'This is ultimately about our patients'

Unite ambulance workers in Wales take strike action to defend the NHS

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More than 1,000 ambulance workers, Unite members, took strike action on Thursday (January 19) in their fight to save the NHS from total collapse.

Unite ambulance workers in Wales overwhelmingly voted to take strike action – by a margin of 88 per cent – over a pay offer that is well below inflation during an unprecedented cost of living crisis.

Members flocked to picket lines across Trusts in Wales, determined to have their voices heard in their dispute over pay and conditions.

Speaking to UniteLive, Unite rep and paramedic Paul Seppman said that attendance at picket lines “was more than we could have hoped for – we had a massive turnout”.

“We’ve also had immense public support – people coming out to get us cups of tea or snacks from the shops, people beeping their horns,” he added. “We’ve never felt more valued.”

Paul told UniteLive that pay was among his biggest concerns in the dispute.

“All of us in the service are working extremely hard, and many of our colleagues are earning barely above the minimum wage – these are dedicated, highly qualified people who are trained to respond to emergencies. They deserve to be treated better.”

He said that without better pay, the service would continue to suffer.

“We just won’t be able to retain people, and without that retention, we’re not going to be able to get out of the hole we’re in in terms of the service, which is on its knees at the moment.”

Unite rep and ambulance worker Stacey Good emphasised that while pay was important in the dispute, it was only part of the puzzle.

“This is ultimately about our patients, about their safety and dignity,” she said. “It’s about the service that we are failing to give right now because we aren’t being given adequate resources and support to carry it out.”

Stacey said that while she appreciated that the Welsh government was attempting to negotiate, she added, “A one-off payment is no good for us”.

“We need a proper pay rise so that we can attract more staff and retain them once they’re here,” Stacey explained. “This would have a knock-on effect because if we have more staff, then we can open more wards in the hospitals, and if we had more wards, then we’d be able to move more patients on instead of waiting outside A&E to admit them.

“The same goes with social care – if there was more funding for social care then we’d be able to discharge more elderly patients in the community,” she added. “So really there needs to be more money for all areas of the NHS – not just for our pay, not just for the hospitals, not just for the ambulance service. We’re just a small cog in a much bigger wheel, and that bigger picture is what we’re fighting for.”

Paul likewise welcomed that the Welsh government is open to negotiating, but he too added that a one-off payment is not enough.

“The pay offer needs to reflect not just this year but the last few years during the Covid pandemic as well,” he said. “We don’t need a non-consolidated pay offer. We need an annual rise that reflects the essential service we provide year-in and year-out.”

Commenting, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham told the BBC, “[Ambulance workers] see first-hand how our NHS is collapsing. A decent consolidated pay increase is the only way to improve NHS recruitment and relieve the crippling pressure on our ambulance services.

“The recent proposal from the Welsh government of a one-off payment simply does not cut it.”

Unite ambulance workers in Wales will join colleagues in England on a second day of strike action on Monday (January 23). As with today’s and every single NHS strike, Unite has reached agreements the local ambulance trusts to ensure life and limb emergency cover.

Stay tuned on UniteLive for more coverage of upcoming ambulance strikes.

By Hajera Blagg

Photos by Paul Clarke