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Use of armed forces to support EMAS ambulance strikes a ‘smokescreen’ says union

The use of the military to assist the East Midlands Ambulance Service during strike action has been criticised by the union GMB today.

Industrial action is taking place at EMAS from February 20 to February 21 involving members of GMB and Unite.

Mark Dawn, branch secretary for GMB EMAS and a trained paramedic, called the use of the military a “smokescreen” and urged the Government to start talks over pay and conditions.

Around 20 members of military personnel including 13 Royal Marines from Plymouth and Taunton, four members of the Army from Larkhill and three RAF personnel from Peterborough and Brize Norton.

Their role will be to drive vehicles in addition to moving and of some patients and equipment.

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EMAS has a workforce of more than 4,000 people and the GMB union says their action may affect up to 50 per cent of staff. Unite has fewer than 15 members at the service.

GMB say they are “calling out the Government in their attempt to fool the public into believing they are bringing in the military to save lives”.

The GMB strike action started on February 20 at 6am and ends on February 21 at 8am. The most serious incidents will still be attended, as with previous strikes.

The government says most ambulance staff have received a rise of at least four per cent, increasing the average basic pay per person to around £34,300.

Mr Dawn said: “We don’t endorse using the military, it is an absolute smokescreen and propaganda to make us look bad.

“It is a bit insulting the Government has put more effort into this than resolving the dispute. It is very disappointing.

“If they think they call the military in to save the day they are sorely mistaken.

“We’ve got nothing against them but they are not front-line ambulance workers.”

He added that GMB’s dispute is with the Government, not EMAS, who he said they have an “impeccable relationship” with.

Mr Dawn added that there has been no movement from the Government since the strike action started in December 2022.

He said: “We want to get this resolved but it has moved no further since we started.

“We will have to consider our options in terms of escalations we can make to make the action more impactful and harder.

“It could mean more staff taking full strike if that’s what they want to do. It could be marches or more media exposure.

“Sooner or later the Government will have to talk.”

Ben Holdaway, Director of Operations at EMAS said: “We expect the industrial action period to be very challenging, and the implementation of military support has always been part of the NHS plans in case of increased and sustained pressure.

“At EMAS, we are expecting up to 20 military colleagues to be available to us. They will not be used to respond to emergency 999 calls.

“Their role will be to drive vehicles in addition to the safe moving and handling of lower acuity patients and essential equipment.

“This will enable our emergency crews to focus on responding to life-threatening and very serious 999 calls.”

The Government said military personnel have been trained and deployed to meet the requests for support made by ambulance trusts.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Strikes are in nobody’s best interests and only cause further disruption for patients, despite contingency measures in place.

“It is time unions engaged constructively with the Pay Review Body process for 2023/24 and cancelled strikes so we can move forward and continue tackling the Covid backlog.

“I’ve been clear throughout that I remain keen to keep talking to unions about what is fair and affordable for the coming financial year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload so we can make the NHS a better place to work.”

GMB strikes

  • Monday 20 February at 06.00 hours until 08.00 hours Tuesday 21 February.
  • 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 strikes

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

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