Wigan's ambulance workers return to picket line as pay dispute continues

Ambulance staff praised the support they received from the people of Wigan as they took to the picket line for the second time in an ongoing dispute over pay.
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Workers from North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) gathered outside Wigan Community Fire and Ambulance Station on Wednesday, braving the cold, wet weather to make their voices heard.

They were among 25,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales to have taken industrial action.

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Paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians from the Unison and GMB unions are taking part in staggered strikes across a 24-hour period.

Wigan paramedic Jonny White, who is Unison branch chairman, said: “We have still yet to get nothing from the Government in the way of negotiations to stop the crisis that we are in – the pay crisis, the staffing crisis and just the winder NHS being under strain – so we will continue to strike until hopefully something changes.

"Once again the public have been very supportive, stopping, giving us food and drinks and driving past pipping.”

He said a further strike was planned for January 23, as well as two more in February.

The second day of industrial action for ambulance staff in WiganThe second day of industrial action for ambulance staff in Wigan
The second day of industrial action for ambulance staff in Wigan
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NHS England has told patients to continue to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies but to use 111, GPs and pharmacies for non-urgent needs.

It said some people may be asked to make their own way to hospital, though it urged people to seek medical advice from 111 or 999 before doing so.

A post on NWAS’ Facebook page said: “Our 999 call handlers are very busy today during strike action. Our NHS 111 call centres also have fewer staff which means our response times for people calling are longer.

"We want you to continue to ring 999 in a situation where there is a life-threatening injury or illness. However, we are urging anyone with non-urgent care needs to please first seek help from NHS 111 online.

Alex Burt on the picket lineAlex Burt on the picket line
Alex Burt on the picket line
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"If you have already called 999 to request an ambulance, please only call back if your condition has worsened or to cancel the ambulance. Repeatedly calling 999 can block phone lines for other emergencies.”

Asked about pay talks to break the current deadlock, Health Secretary Barclay said he does not “think it is right” to “retrospectively” go back to April when it comes to reviewing this year’s pay offer to NHS staff.

It comes amid reports he is considering backdating any 2023/24 pay rise, due to be finalised in the spring, to this month in order to boost the current year’s settlement offer.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he is considering “reopening” the current year’s negotiations, Mr Barclay said: “The purpose of the meeting on Monday was to look at this coming year’s pay review body and the evidence going in.

Ambulance service workers Denise Rice and Alice CleggAmbulance service workers Denise Rice and Alice Clegg
Ambulance service workers Denise Rice and Alice Clegg
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“But, of course, it was an opportunity to listen to the trade unions in terms of their points on last year’s settlement.

“I don’t think it is right to go all the way back to April and retrospectively look at April when we’re already under way in terms of this year’s pay review body.

“But, of course, the unions made representations about that and what the Prime Minister said at the weekend is nothing is off the table.”