Ambulance strikes: Grant Shapps concerned walk-outs ‘will put lives at risk’ | Politics News

Grant Shapps has said he is concerned ambulance strikes tomorrow will put lives at risk.

The business secretary criticised ambulance unions for failing to provide details of where they will be striking to the government so they can ensure the Army can cover them.

As part of the biggest day of NHS industrial action ever, ambulance crews and call handlers will join nurses across England in a coordinated walkout for the first time on 6 February.

Read more: Who is taking industrial action in 2023 and when?

Mr Shapps praised the nurses’ union for telling the government where they are striking and for ensuring emergency cover is in place but said ambulance unions have not done the same.

Asked if lives will be put at risk, he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I am concerned that it does, if you have a situation which has been happening so far where you don’t have co-operation between the back-up services – typically the Army – and the people who are striking.

“We have seen the situation where the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) very responsibly, before the strikes, told the NHS ‘This is where we are going to be striking’ and they are able to put the emergency cover in place.

“Unfortunately we have been seeing a situation with the ambulance unions where they refuse to provide that information.

“That leaves the army, who are driving the back-ups here, in a very difficult position – a postcode lottery when it comes to having a heart attack or a stroke when there is a strike on.

“We cannot have that situation. That is why I am introducing laws for minimum safety levels.”

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Minimum safety levels bill

Last month, Mr Shapps introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill to parliament which, if passed, would make it a legal requirement for key services to have a set amount of cover when they strike.

Unions and workers who did not comply would face being sued or dismissed.

Currently, police officers, members of the armed forces and some prison officers are prohibited from striking.

This new law would cover those working in health, fire and rescue, education, transport, border security, decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel.

‘Rishi Sunak can make big decisions now’

Mr Shapps’ latest concern about ambulance strikes came as the head of the nurses union issued a direct appeal to Rishi Sunak to intervene in their pay dispute.

In a last-minute bid to avert tomorrow’s strikes for nurses, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said a “meaningful” pay offer from the government could do just that.

Pat Cullen (centre) joins RCN members on the picket line
Pat Cullen (centre) joins RCN members on the picket line

In a letter to the PM, she drew a comparison to the sacking of Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi, after he was found to have breached the ministerial code in relation to his tax affairs.

“Big decisions can be made by you at any point in the week in the interests of good government,” she said, urging Mr Sunak to show his government is on the side of the “hardworking, decent taxpayer”.

“There could be no simpler way to demonstrate this commitment than bringing the nurses’ strike to a swift close.”

When are the NHS strikes this week?

Nurses will strike on 6 and 7 February as they call for better conditions and a pay rise. They want 5% above RPI inflation – but have said they would accept around 10%.

Ambulance workers will join nurses for the first day and walk out again on 10 February in a call for an inflation-matching pay rise and better conditions.

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The RCN and other NHS unions called off strikes in Wales this week after receiving a new pay offer from the Welsh government, while negotiations in Scotland are ongoing.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay called the industrial action “regrettable” and despite contingency plans, said that the strikes will “undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays to NHS services”.