UPDATE: The industrial action planned across ambulance services in England on Monday (06 March) and Wednesday (08 March) has been suspended. This was first announced by the Unison and GMB unions on Friday evening, followed by Unite on Sunday evening.
Below issued prior to suspension announcements:
For the first time since the industrial action began in ambulance trusts, South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) will see members in two additional unions – Unite and Unison – join members of the GMB union in taking industrial action planned for March.
To date, only members of the GMB and RCN unions have undertaken industrial action across the SCAS footprint. However, a new ballot amongst members of Unite and Unison employed at SCAS has passed the legal threshold for action to take place.
The dates where industrial action will be taking place in March are as follows:
6 March GMB and Unite
8 March Unison
20 March GMB, Unison and Unite
The addition of Unite and Unison to GMB members means that a greater number of the Trust’s workforce has now voted in favour of industrial action. The action is being undertaken in relation to a dispute between the unions and Government, not directly against SCAS as an employer.
Mark Ainsworth, Director of Operations at SCAS, said: “The escalation of the industrial action in SCAS now means it is at a level that has already been experienced by other NHS ambulance trusts during this dispute. We have been liaising closely with colleagues in those trusts to help ensure that SCAS as an organisation is as prepared as possible to continue prioritising our services to patients with immediately life-threatening or time critical conditions when industrial action is taking place.
“We have seen on previous days where significant industrial action in the NHS outside of SCAS has taken place, that the public have heeded our pleas to only call 999, or go to A&E, for immediately life-threatening or serious emergencies. I would urge people in our region to help us – and more importantly help those people who really need us in a life or death situation – to please keep doing this on 6, 8 and 20 March.
“We need people to seek help and advice from alternatives to 999, such as their own GP or local pharmacy where services are unaffected. For urgent help for people aged five or over, use NHS 111 online at 111.nhs.uk. Outside of normal GP hours, call 111 for children under five and only call 999 if it’s a life-threatening emergency.”
Ahead of this month’s planned industrial action, SCAS has been working closely with the Trust’s GMB, Unison and Unite branches, as well as with all staff, to ensure the impact on patients is minimised as much as possible. However, because of the potential increase in the number of staff rostered on duty on 6, 8 and 20 March taking industrial action, it is likely that most people calling 999 without a life-threatening or immediately serious need, will not be sent an ambulance resource and will be directed to alternative, local services.
All three days of industrial action will see this significant impact on SCAS’ services, but it will be most severe on 8 March.
Mark Ainsworth added: “From our conversations with other ambulance trusts, where this level of industrial action has taken place, we know it is vital to ensure that we have sufficient clinicians in our clinical co-ordination centres to be able to assess, triage and help callers with urgent, but not emergency needs, find the most appropriate alternative care to an ambulance response.
“This will ensure that where we have less people and resources than we expected to be able to respond to calls due to industrial action, they will be protected as much as possible to ensure they are only available for patients calling 999 with the most serious or life-threatening emergencies.”
SCAS has been planning for this phase of industrial action for a number of weeks. As well as the preparations already mentioned, the Trust has:
- Cancelled most training in the week leading up to, and on, the days of industrial action
- Ensured that clinical managers are freed from management duties to respond if needed to 999 and 111 operational demand on strike days
- Requested an additional 50 military personnel to support 999 operations on industrial action days
- Agreed derogations with union colleagues in advance to ensure staff taking industrial action can be recalled to duty if there is an unacceptable risk to a patient
On days of industrial action, patients within the South Central region calling 111 may also be impacted. SCAS is expecting that calls to 111 may take longer to answer than usual and is advising patients to use the online service at 111.nhs.uk in the first instance. By answering a few simple questions online about your main symptoms, patients can get the advice and help they need, as well as be called back by a healthcare professional where appropriate.
There will also be disruption to SCAS’ patient transport service due to the industrial action and the Trust will endeavour to notify patients in advance of an issue about their bookings on 6, 8 or 20 March. If patients do not hear from the patient transport service, they should expect any planned transport to go ahead as scheduled. However there could be isolated problems and delays across operational areas on the days of industrial action.
Further information for the public is available from NHS England here: https://www.england.nhs.uk/long-read/information-for-the-public-on-industrial-action/