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EMAS ambulance workers strikes next week – what you need to know

Industrial action is planned to take place at EMAS on Monday 6 March to Wednesday 8 March 2023, with three trade unions taking part.

For the first time since industrial action began in December 2022, Unison will be taking part after achieving a mandate to strike at EMAS.

Military personnel will provide support responding to non-emergency patients during strike action on Monday 6 March. They will again work across our Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire and Rutland divisions to drive our vehicles, in addition to the safe moving and handling of less serious patients and essential equipment.

The implementation of military support has always been part of the NHS plans in case of increased and sustained pressure. This is to protect the limited numbers of ambulances available to attend the most seriously ill people in the region.

Ben Holdaway, Director of Operations at EMAS said: “We are anticipating that this may be a more difficult period of industrial action than we have seen previously, both due to the potential for fewer ambulances available to respond to Category 2 calls and due to the extended strike period to across three days.

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“Therefore, it is crucial that everyone takes responsibility for their health and well-being and seek the most appropriate service if starting to feel unwell. This means using NHS services wisely and making your own way to a treatment centre or hospital if safe to do so.

“This allows us to send our ambulances with life-saving equipment and clinicians on board to people who really need them.”

”While we continue to fully respect the right of NHS staff to take lawful and peaceful action, as an ambulance service, the most important thing for us is that we are able to provide emergency care to our patients when they need it.”

As we head towards the weekend, the NHS remains open and people are asked not to store up their health conditions or soldier on if they become unwell or injured – seek early advice from your local pharmacist, NHS111 Online, via your GP or Urgent Treatment Centre; and if you have a long-term condition, ensure you continue to take your routine medication as advised by your GP.

Messages for the public

  • It’s important that patients who need urgent medical care continue to come forward, especially in emergency and life-threatening cases – when someone is seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk.
  • GP services are not impacted by this strike action. Please continue to attend your GP appointments, unless you are contacted and told otherwise.
  • If you need medical help or advice, go to NHS 111 online unless it is a life-threatening emergency (eg cardiac arrest) when you should still call 999.
  • Ambulances will still be able to respond in these situations, but this may only be where there is an immediate risk to life.
  • 999 call handlers will be able to advise callers if it is safe for the patient (with the support of relatives or friends when required) to make their own way to a treatment centre or hospital.
  • There will be fewer ambulances on the roads during industrial action, with the NHS prioritising those with life-threatening needs. Therefore, patients whose condition is not life-threatening are unlikely to get an ambulance on strike days.
  • During strike days, NHS 111 call centres will also have fewer staff, with longer call response times expected across the system. Anyone with a non-urgent care need is asked to seek help from the NHS 111 online: https://111.nhs.uk/

Strike dates

GMB, Unite and Unison trade unions have confirmed that they intend to take industrial action on the following dates this year:

GMB

  • Monday 6 March at 06.00 hours until 08.00 hours Tuesday 7 March.
  • Monday 20 March at 06.00 hours until 08.00 hours Tuesday 21 March.

UNITE

  • Monday 6 March at 00.01 hours and concluding at 23.59 hours.
  • Monday 20 March at 00.01 hours and concluding at 23.59 hours

Unison

  • Wednesday 8 March at 07.00 hours and concluding at 19.00 hours

 

The current mandate to strike covers a six-month period therefore further dates may be announced in due course.

Background

The trade unions received enough votes to have a mandate to strike and take action short of a strike in response to the national pay dispute with the government. The Unison branch at EMAS re-balloted members which resulted in them securing a mandate to take strike action at EMAS on 16 February 2023.

NHS pay levels are agreed at a national, not local, level and are therefore negotiated nationally for NHS employees.

Many staff at EMAS are members of a trade union. We have a workforce of over 4,000 people which includes colleagues across all areas of our organisation eg A&E frontline ambulance crews, 999 control rooms, Non-Emergency Patient Transport Services and Enabling Services.

Around 75% of staff at EMAS are members of either the GMB and Unison unions; RCN have fewer than 100 members at EMAS, and Unite have fewer than 15 members.

On the day of the strike, trade union members due to be at work at EMAS will need to personally make a decision whether to attend work as normal or whether to take part in the industrial action – either by exercising their right to strike or through deciding to work under derogations agreed with their trade union.

Whilst we fully recognise and respect an individuals’ legal right to participate in industrial action, our underlying duties and responsibilities are to ensure that patient or staff safety, welfare, dignity, or respect are not jeopardised by industrial action.

Our EMAS operational teams have developed contingency plans to aim to maximise the number of ambulance staff and volunteers we have available to respond to patients, as well as clinical staff able to carry out remote clinical assessments.

We fully respect the right of NHS staff to take lawful and peaceful industrial action, however we do urge national employer representatives and trade union colleagues to proactively engage and reach a negotiated settlement to the dispute as quickly as possible.

On the day of the strike, trade union members due to be at work at EMAS will need to personally make a decision whether to attend work as normal or whether to take part in the industrial action – either by exercising their right to strike or through deciding to work under derogations agreed with their trade union.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is considered an emergency, and will my 999 call be answered?

A: Patients should only call 999 if there is a risk to life eg cardiac arrest, unconscious or catastrophic bleed, or if seriously ill or injured eg stroke or a serious traumatic injury. Ambulances will be dispatched where clinically appropriate.

Q: If the ambulance is taking a long time to arrive, what should I do?

A: It is likely to take us longer than normal to get to patients on the day of industrial action because there will be fewer ambulances available.

Our 999 control rooms will carefully assess and prioritise an ambulance response for those who need it most, and this may only be where there is a threat to life.

You may be asked to make your own way to hospital or a medical treatment centre if it is safe to do so.

If you are waiting for an ambulance, please do not call 999 again to ask for an updated estimated time of arrival for an ambulance.

You should only call 999 again if you wish to cancel the ambulance because you are making their own way to hospital, or if the patient’s condition has significantly worsened.

Q: Will my non-emergency patient transport be impacted?

A: Some of our Non-Emergency Patient Transport Services (PTS) staff are members of the GMB union and therefore may take part in industrial action on the planned strike day. Please note EMAS only provides PTS in Northamptonshire and Derbyshire.

Our PTS planning teams have been preparing to minimise the disruption to our patients during this period of industrial action.

Patients should expect their booked routine transport to arrive as normal and should attend their appointments as normal, unless contacted directly by the hospital or the ambulance service to inform you of a cancellation.

Throughout this period of industrial action, transport to chemotherapy and kidney dialysis appointments, as well as hospital discharges, will be prioritised to ensure patients continue to receive the life-saving treatments they need.

Any patients with additional questions can contact our NEPTS booking telephone line on 0300 300 34 34.

Q: Do I need to cancel my transport and hospital appointment for the days of industrial action?

A: No. Patients should expect their booked transport to arrive as normal and should attend their appointments as normal, unless contacted directly by the hospital or the ambulance service to inform you of a cancellation.

Q: If staff are already on shift and treating a patient when the industrial action begins, will they just stop working?

A: If delivering patient services, staff must complete the patient call they are on before they are permitted to stand down; this includes in call centres as well as direct patient care.

Q: Where will the picket lines be held?

A: Picketing is likely to take place at the ambulance stations across the East Midlands where union members who are participating in industrial action are based.

Q: Can members of the public join the picket lines?

A: No – not as part of official picketing.

However, they could be present and exercising their human right of protest despite not being part of the official picket.

The Code of Practice on Picketing states ‘anyone seeking to demonstrate support for those in dispute should keep well away from any picket line so as not to create a risk of a breach of the peace or other criminal being committed on that picket line.’

Q: Can EMAS pay its staff more money and stop the strikes?

A: No. NHS Agenda for Change pay levels are agreed at a national and not at a local level and are therefore are negotiated nationally for NHS employees.

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