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British ambulance workers set to join extended strikes

British ambulance workers prepared to walk out on Wednesday, a day after nurses staged their second walkout, in a widening dispute with the government that refuses to back down on demands for pay above inflation. The series of strikes has intensified ahead of Christmas, with industrial action by rail workers and passport controllers threatening to spoil festive holiday travel. On Wednesday, paramedics, including paramedics and call handlers, will go on strike, prompting warnings from healthcare leaders. London’s biggest hospital group said “mothers will need to plan how they get into hospital”. “Where people are planning any risky activity, I would strongly encourage them not to,” said junior health minister Will Quince. “We never want to alarm people but we have reached the stage where our leaders feel it is necessary to say they cannot guarantee patient safety,” said Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation which represents services including ambulance trusts in England and Wales. “We’re entering a very dangerous time and that’s why we’re all the more appealing to the government and the unions to try and find a way to resolve this dispute and help us get through the winter,” he told the BBC. At least three ambulance services declared critical incidents due to “unprecedented” pressure and said they would prioritize treatment for those most in need, such as life-threatening cases. Up to 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland went on strike on Tuesday, just five days after the first strike in its 106-year history. Unions representing both National Health Service (NHS) nurses and ambulance workers have threatened further stoppages in the new year if the government continues to refuse to discuss pay. – “Grip” – Employees across the UK economy are demanding pay rises in the face of decades of high inflation – currently at almost 11 per cent – fueling the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. But the government insists it must stick to more modest rises for public servants recommended by independent pay review bodies. “The best way to help them and help everyone else in the country is for us to get a grip and reduce inflation as quickly as possible,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told a monitoring panel of MPs. On the picket line outside a central London hospital opposite Parliament, Mamta Pun, 25, said his stance on the pay dispute was “a slap in the face to all healthcare staff, the public and patients”. The intensive care nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital, where former prime minister Boris Johnson was treated in intensive care for Covid-19, said she and her colleagues were finishing shifts “worried, scared, scared” because of their workload. – ‘Cold shoulder’ – The RCN has also criticized the Sunak government over its pay stance and accused Health Minister Steve Barclay of adopting a “macho” negotiating style during brief meetings held recently. It has warned that nurses would take wider industrial action next month if the government “continues to give our healthcare workers the cold shoulder that they have so far”. “It’s really unfortunate that in January we’re going to see more hospitals being involved and going on strike and that means more health workers being involved,” Chief Pat Cullen said. Ministers plan to draw in 750 military personnel to drive ambulances and perform logistics roles to mitigate the impact of these strikes. Despite the government’s stubborn insistence that it will not negotiate wages, opinion polls show that the majority of people support the nurses’ position, and to a lesser extent other workers who are walking away. YouGov polls published on Tuesday showed two-thirds of Britons support striking nurses, with similar support for paramedics (63 per cent). But people were more divided in other industries such as rail workers – whose walkout 43 per cent supported while 49 per cent opposed – and postal workers, where the split was 49 per cent to 43 per cent. jj-har/phz/kjm

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