People in Wales told to ‘take care’ and not add pressure to ambulance crews on strike day

Wales’s health minister has urged people not to “add extra pressure” on the ambulance service ahead of planned strike action – warning crews will only be able to respond to “the most urgent calls”.

Eluned Morgan MS said people should take extra care and consider what activities they take part in on Wednesday – and the 28th, when a second day of action is planned.

She said patients are advised not to call 999 unless someone is “very seriously ill or injured or there is an immediate risk to life”, and that those whose lives are not in danger may be asked to make their own way to hospital.

As many as 1,500 ambulance staff in Wales who are members of the GMB union plan to stage a walkout in a row over pay and working conditions.

They include paramedics, ambulance care assistants and some control room staff and corporate staff.

While the most urgent calls will be responded to, the strike is expected to “severely impact” patient care and the number of calls that can be attended.

Like England, the military and civil servants will be deployed to help run services in Wales.

People are advised to use the NHS 111 Wales website for health advice where there is no immediate threat to life, or speak to or visit a pharmacist, GP or minor injuries unit.

The Welsh Ambulance Service said people should still call the emergency line if a person is having a cardiac arrest, continuous fits, lack of consciousness or breathing difficulties, and in some cases of acute behavioural disturbance.

Ms Morgan said: “There’s no doubt the two days of industrial action, following hard on the heels of action by nurses which have caused a delay in treatment for thousands of patients in Wales, are going to cause huge pressure on ambulance services.

“Ambulances will only be able to respond to the most urgent calls on strike days.

“Please don’t add extra pressure on services on these days and consider carefully what activities you take part in tomorrow and on the 28th.

“It’s important to call 999 if in you are in immediate danger, but we must all consider very carefully how we use ambulance services on these days.”

“It’s vital that all of us, as users of our NHS, do all we can to minimise pressure on our health service during the industrial action,” she added.

On Tuesday night, the Welsh Government issued advice on how to help relieve the pressure on the ambulance service, saying to stock up on prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies for common ailments and people should make sure they have adequate first aid supplies.

It also said to take care in the cold weather to avoid slips, trips, falls and accidents on the road, and to look out for family, friends and neighbours who are especially vulnerable.

The Welsh Ambulance Service recorded its worst performance in October, with figures showing less than half of red category calls were responded to within the required eight minutes.

Meanwhile, Nesta Lloyd-Jones, assistant director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, described the current demand on the health care system as “relentlessly high”, as experts said the UK is dealing with a “tripledemic” of higher Covid cases, Strep A and common winter illnesses such as flu.

Due to such pressures, Betsi Cadwaladr health board, which provides services in North Wales, on Monday declared an internal critical incident due to unprecedented demand and has cancelled all but the most urgent procedures.

Rachel Harrison, a national secretary at the GMB trade union, told MPs on the Health Committee on Tuesday that unless Health Secretary Steve Barclay MP opens negotiations the strike would go ahead.

Speaking about the conditions leading ambulance staff to strike, she said: “It’s absolutely having a devastating impact on our members.

“Frustration, stress, burnout, exhaustion, low morale, mental health.

“Our members are tired of going to work every day and in some cases spending the whole of their shift sat on an ambulance outside an A&E department with the same patient.”

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