London: More than 10,000 ambulance drivers across England and Wales have voted in favor of strike action in a dispute over pay and conditions, the GMB union said on Wednesday.
England’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) is bracing for a wave of unprecedented industrial action this winter, with 100,000 nurses taking strike action on December 15 and 20 for the first time in their union’s 100-year history.
“No one in the NHS takes strike action lightly, today shows just how desperate they are,” GMB National Secretary Rachel Harrison said.
“This is as much about unsafe staffing levels and patient safety as it is about pay … Something has to change or the service as we know it will collapse.”
The union said it would hold meetings in the coming days to discuss possible strike dates before Christmas. The NHS, which has provided healthcare free at the point of access since 1948, is dealing with record levels of patients on waiting lists for hospital treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a staffing crisis that has left thousands of vacancies.
Accident and emergency departments are also under strain, with ambulances often facing lengthy waits to transfer patients to hospitals. Thousands of health workers, including call handlers and paramedics, represented by the Unison trade union are also set to take industrial action after voting in favor of strikes.
In response to Unison’s announcement, England’s health and social care minister Steve Barclay said he regretted that some NHS staff would be taking industrial action as the country approached “a challenging winter”.
“Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes and the NHS has tried and tested plans to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate,” Barclay said in a statement.