The health secretary has said people should use their “common sense” about their activities on Wednesday during strikes by ambulance workers in England and Wales.
Asked on Times Radio if the public should change their behavior to avoid ambulance calls, Steve Barclay said: “We are telling people to use their common sense. People can see that today is going to be a very difficult day for the ambulance service.
“The focus will be on those life-threatening incidents and ensuring they are addressed, but there will be strain on the rest of the system. So we’re just telling people to use their common sense.
“Of course, if it’s really life threatening then they should call 999.”
He was speaking as up to 25,000 ambulance workers in England and Wales, including call officers, went on strike on Wednesday in a dispute with the government over pay.
Barclay said he was “concerned” by the level of health service provided as paramedics went on strike for a second time and blamed ambulance unions for failing to provide a minimum level of service.
He confirmed that the most urgent life-threatening calls, which are called category one, would be handled, but urged caution as the unions did not provide “absolutely comprehensive” plans to cover category two calls, which in some cases can escalate to calls urgent. .
Unions have dismissed as “lies” government claims that they were not providing minimum levels of service during the strike.
Barclay said the government’s anti-strike legislation would seek to ensure that contingency planning was not difficult, saying the new laws would not target individual health workers but “the behavior of unions.” The measures could lead to the dismissal of striking staff, and Barclay refused to deny that people could lose their jobs if the legislation is enforced.
He told Sky News: “There is a marked difference from what we have seen at the Royal College of Nursing, which has had national agreements to ensure patient safety and what we have seen with ambulance strikes even up to last midnight. . I was getting calls tonight in terms of what arrangements will be put in place in terms of local coverage, the minimum levels of safety that will be put in place because the ambulance unions have refused to do it nationally.”
Ambulance workers on strike on Wednesday have pledged to stagger their industrial action over the course of the day to ensure there is no impact on health services.
All ambulance employees, including call handlers, will walk out on Wednesday in a dispute over pay, but none of them will be on the picket line for more than 12 hours, the Unison union confirmed. Some striking workers may only be out of the office for six hours at a time.