THE leader of the Welsh Ambulance Service has urged the government and trade unions to continue negotiations and resolve an ongoing pay dispute.
Members of the GMB union went out on strike today, Wednesday, demanding a better pay offer from the Welsh Government, which runs the NHS in Wales.
Jason Killens, chief executive of the ambulance service, said many of his staff had told him they felt conflicted about taking industrial action.
“I’ve been talking with staff over the last few weeks, they say they don’t know what to do on strike days,” he told the Argus. “They want to care for patients… but on the other hand the pressure on health and social care is so severe they feel they have to make a stand and make a point.”
Mr Killens said the government and the unions “need to continue to talk” because “ultimately it’s patients in the middle of this”.
Some ambulance services continued to run on Wednesday, and crews were available for callouts to the most immediately life-threatening emergencies, such as cardiac arrests, but less urgent cases would be redirected elsewhere or patients asked to find alternative transport to hospitals.
Mr Killens said this will mean “less serious patients are going to wait longer” but, given the recent pressures on hospitals and the wider health and care system, “it won’t be out [of place] with what we’ve seen in recent months”.
On the strikes, he added: “I would urge all of [the parties involved] to carry on talking.”
The Welsh Government told the Argus it could “recognise why so many ambulance workers voted the way they did and the anger and disappointment many public sector workers are feeling at the moment”.
Ambulance workers in other parts of the UK have also been holding industrial action over pay, and in Wales the government has proposed fresh talks with unions and the offer of a one-off payment to staff.
But unless a breakthrough is reached in the immediate future, there will be two more days of strikes this month, when Unite members join picket lines, and there could be more to come.
In light of this, Mr Killens said “if you think you’ve got a life-threatening injury or illness, you must continue to call us”.
He added: “We will continue to respond if [your case] is immediately life-threatening. If it’s not, one of our clinicians will provide advice over the phone or advise you how to access healthcare elsewhere in the NHS.
“If someone isn’t sure, they do need to ring us and let us work out the best way to manage them.”