Health secretary Steve Barclay tells GMB union that strike led to ambulance service that could not guarantee safety

Striking ambulance staff have said they feel ‘demonised’ by the Government’s attempts to paint them as ‘uncaring about safety standards’ (PA Wire)
Striking ambulance staff have said they feel ‘demonised’ by the Government’s attempts to paint them as ‘uncaring about safety standards’ (PA Wire)

Health secretary Steve Barclay has admitted that the level of ambulance cover could not be "relied upon to ensure patient and public safety" during recent strike action.

The GMB union, Sky News reported on Sunday, has received a letter from the secretary that did acknowledge that the most serious 999 calls were answered in all striking regions.

However, Mr Barclay raised concerns that the lack of cover for category two calls - which includes serious illnesses including strokes and chest pain - posed a greater risk.

“[The government] greatly values the vital work ambulance workers do,” he said before criticising the "volatile" assurances of the union before the strikes in December.

“[The] scope and extent of arrangements [was] being disputed right up to wire,” he said.

“During recent action I have not been reassured that the current system of voluntary arrangements can be relied upon to ensure patient and public safety,” the letter added.

On Saturday, the GMB wrote to Rishi Sunak in which union leaders told the prime minister that ambulance staff had felt “demonised” and called for the Government to “stop attacking us”.

The issue has blown up again as the government prepares to push forward with its plan for anti-strike legislation. This bill, which will set minimum service levels for striking fire, ambulance and rail services, will return to the Commons on Monday.

Mr Barclay wrote of the bill: “[It will] introduce greater clarity and certainty around which services must continue and to what extent, to give the public much needed assurance that a certain level of urgent and time critical care will always continue throughout strike action.”

The government has said the bill is not aimed at ending the right to strike.

Gary Smith, GMB general secretary, said: “A government that has presided over 13 years of failure in our public services is now seeking to scapegoat the NHS staff and ambulance workers who do so much to care for the people of our country.

“The NHS can only function with the goodwill of its incredible staff and attacking their fundamental right to take action will alienate them even further and do nothing to help patients and the public.

"We are always ready to discuss our members' pay but the Government is refusing to talk about problems as they exist now, instead they want to kick the can down the road.”