Hospitals have been told to clear beds ahead of the ambulance strike with NHS leaders telling trusts to prepare for “extensive disruption”.
Ambulance workers from nine trusts will strike on Wednesday (Dec 21), a day after the second nurses strike by members of the 106-year-old Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Hospital bosses conceded the RCN’s first ever strike, on Thursday December 15, had a “significant impact” and have been told to prepare for the “extensive disruption” that will be caused by the ambulance strike.
NHS leaders have ordered hospital bosses to “safely” discharge patients to move those who have completed emergency medical care out of emergency departments (EDs).
A letter to hospital chiefs from NHS England states: “Derogation discussions with trade unions are ongoing at a local level, therefore the impact [of the ambulance strike] upon services will vary across different ambulance services, but extensive disruption is expected.”
Hospitals can create “observational areas” and extra beds in other parts of the hospital to move patients from EDs. Senior doctors and staff will be drafted to EDs from other departments to treat as many patients as possible. Hospitals must also ensure that ambulances do not wait longer than 15 minutes to hand over patients given there will be fewer ambulances in operation during the strike.
NHS faces ‘very challenging’ week
“It’s going to get increasingly difficult for trust leaders to manage this process because we know that the winter is always a very tricky time in the NHS and we know it’s a particularly demanding time,” NHS Providers’ interim chief executive Saffron Cordery told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Coming alongside an ambulance strike on the following day, I think it’s going to be a very challenging time next week.”
Cordery said the first nurses’ strike impacted differently around the country with emergency departments reporting “real pressure points”, including the slow transfer of patients.
“In terms of things like routine operations, so far we’ve heard that probably between around 40 to 60% of those routine operations have been cancelled in places where the strikes were held.
“So it’s fair to say that there’s been a relatively significant impact and I think it was a very demanding day overall, on the frontline in the NHS,” said Cordery.
Police and military role in ambulance strike
The BBC reports that the Police Federation has suggested its officers may be called upon to drive ambulances during the strike.
The military have also been put on stand-by ahead of the industrial action to provide support. Confirming the deployment of troops, Will Warrender, the chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service Trust (SWAST), said: “We are doing all we can to manage winter pressures and the upcoming industrial action, including receiving military support during industrial action days which will allow our ambulance clinicians to crew more ambulances and reach patients more quickly.”
999 callers are already experiencing long waits for ambulances to arrive and then further delays when queuing outside hospitals.
The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) has asked people to only call 999 “if someone has a serious illness or injury, you think their life is at risk, and you cannot get them to hospital by any other means.”
Beware fake ambulance strikers
NWAS has also warned people not to be conned by scammers pretending to be striking paramedics
In a statement NWAS said:“We have been made aware that there are some people in Manchester posing as ambulance service staff and knocking on people’s doors asking for donations to pay wages whilst on strike.
“Please note, these people are not North West Ambulance Service staff, so please don’t donate.
“If you find their behaviour concerning, please report it to the police via 101.”
Paul Turner, a NWAS paramedic and GMB member called the scammers “absolutely outrageous” and assured the public: “GMB is not taking part in any fundraising of this kind.
“Betraying people’s trust in this way is absolutely outrageous. What is wrong with people?”