Plea to ‘save lives’ by only calling 999 in an emergency during ambulance strike

An ambulance chief has issued a plea to help “save the life of a Londoner” by only calling 999 in a “life or limb” threatening emergency during the paramedics’ strike on Monday.

Daniel Elkeles, Chief Executive of the London Ambulance Service (LAS), warned that anyone without a life-threatening condition was “unlikely to get an ambulance” during the 12-hour walkout.

Monday’s strike will involve thousands of call handlers, paramedics, drivers and technicians from the Unison, Unite and GMB unions. In London, members of Unison will walk out from 11am with picket lines in Waterloo, Newham and Deptford.

Ambulance Strike | January 2023

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It is the third time that ambulance staff have walked out in five weeks in a bitter dispute with ministers over pay and staffing. Talks between Health Secretary Steve Barclay and health unions collapsed earlier this month.

Further strikes are planned in the coming weeks by nurses and other NHS workers.

Unions have stressed that Category One calls, including cardiac arrests, and serious Category Two calls for “life and limb conditions” — including strokes, heart attacks and sepsis — will still be responded to during the strike on Monday.

Ahead of a “challenging day” for the LAS, Mr Elkeles issued a plea for Londoners to only contact the service if there is an imminent threat to life.

He told the Standard: “By keeping 999 for emergencies, you could help save the life of a Londoner who needs us.

“There will be fewer ambulances on the roads and fewer staff in our control rooms triaging 999 calls. As a result, patients may find it takes longer to get through to these services. Those whose conditions are not life-threatening are unlikely to get an ambulance. Where the situation is not life-threatening, alternative support will be available through NHS111 online.”

He added: “I can’t over emphasise that this is not the place any of us want to be. We all work in the NHS because we want to provide great care to our patients. I hope a resolution can be reached soon.”

Several NHS trusts in London warned that patients would face “extremely long waits” for non-emergency care.

Barts Health NHS Trust said that its hospitals would be “effectively be running at the highest alert level for three days” on either side of the strike, while Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust said industrial action would cause “further pressure on our busy A&Es”.

The volume of calls made to the LAS dropped by nearly a quarter during the last paramedics’ strike on December 11, suggesting that Londoners heeded NHS advice to only contact the service in an emergency. This drop in demand allowed ambulance crews to continue to treat severely ill patients.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton told the Standard that London ambulance workers were “torn with guilt when they can’t get to patients on time”. In December alone, crews in London lost a total of 13,100 hours waiting outside hospitals to hand over patients to A&E, leading to delays in responding to calls in the community.

“Ambulance workers feel they’re left with no option but to strike, if only to jolt the government into action.

"Ministers must move on pay and staffing if the NHS is to have any hope of restoring the standards people expect and deserve.”

"The Prime Minister must find the funding to boost pay for health workers now and ensure a decent wage rise in April.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he had held “constructive talks with unions about this coming year’s pay process for 2023/24” but branded the strikes “disappointing”.

“While we have contingency plans in place to mitigate risks to patient safety, there will inevitably be further disruption.

“It is important people continue coming forward for treatment - call 999 in life threatening emergencies and use NHS 111 online, local pharmacies and GP services for non-life threatening care.”

However, Monday’s action could be dwarfed by planned walkouts on February 6, which is likely to be the biggest strike action the NHS has ever experienced, if no deal has been reached by then.