Europe

Armed forces to drive ambulances during strikes but can’t speed

Ambulance workers and NHS staff to strike days before Christmas

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Military personnel will drive ambulances during next week’s strikes but will have to stick to the speed limit and will not be allowed to drive through red traffic lights.

Around 750 members of the armed forces will be deployed as 10,000 ambulance workers are due to join walkouts. They will, though, have to follow normal driving rules when driving the emergency vehicles and so won’t be able to jump red lights or break speed limits to reach their jobs.

It means the military personnel will largely be restricted to non-urgent cases.

Will Quince, Minister of State for Health and Secondary Care, said some less urgent 999 callers will get a taxi instead an ambulance turning up at their door during the strike.

He told MPs: “999 calls are triaged and categorised from category 1 to category 4. On the days of ambulance strike action, it’s likely that category 1 and category 2 calls, where there is an immediate threat to life, will be responded to.

“And we are looking at ways in which we can provide additional support for category 3 and category 4 including things like block booking taxis and things like support through community healthcare and local authorities and community support.”

Members of the armed forces will be able to use the ambulance blue lights and sirens but, as the Mirror says, widespread disruption is still feared as a result of the walkout on Wednesday – the first national ambulance strike in 30 years.

Ministers will today hold an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss plans for military staff and civil servants to cover for striking workers in the coming weeks.

Soldiers and officials are also being trained in case they are required to be drafted in at ports and airports, as border staff prepare to strike for eight days from December 23 to New Year’s Eve.

The meeting of Cobra (civil contingencies committee) will be led by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden and attended by transport, health, home office and defence ministers.

Another meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

GMB, Unison and Unite are coordinating industrial action for the day after a planned nurses’ strike unless the Government agrees to open pay talks.

GMB is planning a second walk-out for its members on December 28.

It represents paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers.

Nine of the 10 ambulance services in England and Wales will join strikes, with only the East of England unaffected.

Downing Street has said that major winter walkouts will cause “serious disruption” in the health service despite the military stepping in to alleviate some pressures.

Asked what roles military personnel will be taking on in the NHS, the Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters: “There are fairly long-standing processes in place of how military personnel can help in these circumstances.

“Obviously, we recognise their skill-sets will be different but they can help alleviate pressures to free up paramedics and other people with the necessary skills so they can carry on treating patients and get where they need to be.”

He added: “There’s still some discussions I believe ongoing with the unions about exactly what areas they plan to provide cover for, and that will probably inform some of the roles that these individuals have to carry out as well.

“But clearly we are not suggesting that there won’t be serious disruption caused by strikes.

“These individuals are going to be extremely helpful in mitigating some of that disruption, but nonetheless, it will have an impact.”

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