Unite chief accuses government of giving up on the NHS

With one week until ambulance strike vote closes, paramedic shines a light on the crisis in patient care:

“We hear them over the radio, calling for a response to category ones, which are life-threatening emergencies, and there’s no-one there to respond”

With one week to go until the closure of the ballot for strike action involving thousands of ambulance workers in England, Unite, the union for 100,000 NHS workers, has today (Wednesday) accused the government of abandoning the NHS. 

It comes as a Unite paramedic with 15 years of experience confirms that ‘there is no-one there to respond’ to 999 emergency calls.

Unite says its members are ‘aghast’ at the reports emerging from the government in the midst of the NHS crisis. In the past few days alone, it has been reported that the government is considering dropping targets for the ambulance service and that another hefty pay cut for the workforce is being proposed for 2023. Meanwhile, a two-tier NHS is being considered in Scotland. It is also now reported that the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, uses an expensive private medical system instead of the NHS.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite NHS members are aghast at the drip, drip of stories coming out of this government. It is flapping around looking for something or someone to blame for the ruination of our NHS, but the bald truth is ministers need to look in the mirror for that one. 

“The question now is, has this government given up on our NHS? When government policies on pay will deepen the staffing crisis and the person running the country refuses to use the service, how can we be confident that they’re on the side of patients and the workforce?

“The only way to stop this crisis crushing our NHS is to address the severe pay and staffing problems. Unfortunately, the government is showing no interest whatsoever in doing the right thing – and this is pushing NHS workers, including Unite’s ambulance workers, to take a stand.”

The union says that the systematic starvation of resources under 12 years of Conservative government is crushing the NHS.

Last month, October 2022, was the worst on record for meeting the current targets. Unite members in the ambulance service confirm that many category one and category two calls are not meeting with a response.

Unite member Kelvin Hurd, a specialist paramedic with 15 years of service, reports that such are the crippling staffing problems across the service, emergencies are going unanswered, and that patients are stuck in ambulances for up to three hours because of the crisis within hospitals. 

Kelvin Hurd said: “We hear them over the radio, calling for a response to category ones, which are life-threatening emergencies, and there’s no-one there to respond.

“There’s not enough cleaners to clean the rooms we take patients to, not enough porters to move them, not enough nurses or GPs to assess them.

“Instead of handing over patients in 15 minutes, it’s taking one hour, two hours, three hours. All that time we’re looking after patients, we’re not responding to other emergencies.”

Kelvin speaks about the ruin of the service here

Category one calls are from those with life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrest and are meant to be attended to by a crew within seven minutes under existing guidelines. Category two, which includes strokes and severe burns, should be responded to within 18 minutes.

Unite ambulance members in England are currently being balloted for strike action. The ballot closes on Wednesday 30 November. In Scotland, Unite’s ambulance members begin a work-to-rule on 25 November.