NHS strikes in 'nobody's best interests', Steve Barclay says

NHS strikes are in ‘nobody’s best interests’, Health Secretary Steve Barclay says as ambulance workers prepare to walk-out for first time in 30 years

  • Paramedics and healthcare workers looking increasingly likely to walk off job 
  • 80,000 union members voted in favour of taking industrial action, Unison said 
  • Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the strikes are ‘in nobody’s best interests’ 
  • An ambulance strike of this scale would be the first in more than 30 years
  • Mr Barclay claimed the unions’ one per cent rise demands are not affordable   
  • GMB, the largest union for ambulance staff, are set to announce strikes today 

Steve Barclay today reiterated that pre-Christmas NHS strikes are ‘in nobody’s best interests’ as it was revealed how ambulance staff are set to stage their first walk-out for 30 years. 

The Health Secretary condemned the action, which comes ahead of ‘a challenging winter’, and claimed union pay demands are ‘not affordable’. 

Thousands of paramedics and healthcare workers are set to join nurses in striking, after Unison announced that 80,000 members voted in favour of taking industrial action.

GMB, the largest union for ambulance staff, is set to announce similar action later today, despite warnings from a senior NHS official that it will leave response times ‘incredibly stretched’. 

Steve Barclay has claimed pre-Christmas strikes are ‘in nobody’s best interests’ as ambulance staff are set to stage their first walk-outs for 30 years

Mr Barclay said: ‘I’m hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff and deeply regret some will be taking industrial action – which is in nobody’s best interests as we approach a challenging winter.

‘Our economic circumstances mean unions’ demands are not affordable — each additional 1 per cent pay rise for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract would cost around £700million a year.’

Will pre-Christmas nursing strikes happen at YOUR hospital? List reveals where 100,000 NHS medics will walk-out on December 15 and 20

The Royal College of Nursing revealed its members will only walk-outs at half of the sites in England that have secured a mandate for industrial action.

He said the Government had ‘prioritised the NHS with record funding’ and accepted a recommendation from an independent body to award more than one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 per year.

Mr Barclay said this means those on the lowest salaries will receive a pay increase of up to 9.3 per cent, on top of the 3 per cent awarded last year through public sector pay freezes and government cost-of-living support.

He added: ‘Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes and the NHS has tried and tested plans to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.

‘My door remains open to discuss with the unions ways we can make the NHS a better place to work.’

It comes as Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said strikes could leave ambulance response times ‘incredibly stretched’.

Among the Unison members supporting a mass walk-out were 999 call staff, ambulance technicians and paramedics servicing the North East, North West, South West, Yorkshire and London. 

An ambulance strike of this scale could spell disaster for the already under-pressure NHS. 

Ms Cordery told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ‘there’s going to be an incredibly testing time ahead this winter’ when nurses and ambulance workers go on strike.

She added: ‘I think in terms of the ambulance strike, we know the challenges already of not having enough paramedics, call handlers available, because we’ve seen the challenges to ambulance handover times that we have at the moment in terms of not being able to transfer patients from ambulances into A&E departments and the challenges that brings when they can’t get back out on the road.

‘Additional challenges on top of that, I think, will make response times incredibly stretched. 

‘But ambulance trust leaders will be putting in place as many measures as possible to mitigate the risks of those actions.’

Britain’s last nationwide strike involving paramedics took place in the winter of 1989 to 1990, and the government was forced to call upon the Army, police and volunteer drivers.   

The Royal College of Nursing announced the first of a series of walk outs over pay will take place on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December

Paramedics and healthcare workers are looking increasingly likely to walk off the job in the lead up to Christmas as a pay dispute with the government rages on

Armed Forces personnel could again drive ambulances and stand in for frontline hospital workers during the NHS strikes, it was claimed this week. 

No formal request for help has been made by the Department of Health and Social Care to the Ministry of Defence.

Asked about the Army, Ms Cordery said it was ‘probably clear’ that any help given would be ‘at the margins’.

She added that ‘we will really welcome their support but that won’t play a central role in keeping the ambulance service going’.

Nurse strikes are already scheduled for December 15 and December 20, with up to 100,000 staff expected to take part across 76 locations.

Armed Forces personnel could again drive ambulances and stand in for frontline hospital workers during the NHS strikes 

Health bosses warn strikes will put lives at risk and force them to cancel tests and operations at a time when a record 7.1million people are on waiting lists.

Unions must provide two weeks notice for any industrial action, meaning an ambulance strike could conceivably take place in mid-December or during the Christmas and New Year period.

Unison is calling for action on pay and a big rise in staff numbers, warning that unless these things happen, services will continue to decline. 

Christina McAnea, Unison general secretary, said in a statement: ‘The decision to take action and lose a day’s pay is always a tough call. It’s especially challenging for those whose jobs involve caring and saving lives.

‘But thousands of ambulance staff and their NHS colleagues know delays won’t lessen, nor waiting times reduce, until the Government acts on wages.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will walk out on December 15 and 20 if the dispute is not resolved. Pictured: A July 25 protest outside Downing Street 

Ambulance performance statistics for October show paramedics took longer to arrive to category one, two and three call outs since records began in 2017. Ambulances took an average of 1 hour, one minute and 19 seconds to respond to category two calls (red bars), such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than three times as long as the 18 minute target

Official figures show 7.1million people in England were in the queue for routine hospital treatment, such as hip and knee operations, by the end of September — the equivalent of one in eight people (red line). The figure includes more than 400,000 people who have been waiting, often in pain, for over one year (yellow bars)

‘Patients will always come first and emergency cover will be available during any strike. But unless NHS pay and staffing get fixed, services and care will continue to decline.’

Unison will now analyse the results of the ballot and determine the next steps – including when any potential strikes are likely to take place. 

An estimated 270,000 members of the union either didn’t vote or voted against strikes, meaning it fell short of the 50 per cent support needed to trigger such strikes in many of the regions. 

Figures show that ambulance trusts in England repeatedly miss targets for reaching patients in an emergency.

Ambulance performance statistics for October show the average category one response time — calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries — was nine minutes and 56 seconds. The target time is seven minutes.

Ambulances took an average of 1 hour, one minute and 19 seconds to respond to category two calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes. This is more than three times as long as the 18 minute target.

Response times for category three calls — such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes — averaged three hours, 34 minutes and 34 seconds. Ambulances are supposed to arrive within two hours.

The NHS organisations that voted to strike 




East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust

NHS Derby and Derbyshire ICB (Joined Up Care Derbyshire)

NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire ICB

Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust


Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust

Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

NHS Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB

NHS Mid and South Essex ICB

NHS Norfolk and Waveney ICB

NHS Suffolk and North East Essex ICB


Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust

Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust

St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

NHS North Central London ICB

NHS South West London ICB

NHS Resolution


Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust

Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust

Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Wirral Community Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust

Midlands and Lancashire CSU

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

Central Cheshire Integrated Care Partnership

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust

Health Education England

NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICB

NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB

Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust  


North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust

The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

North of England CSU (NECS)


Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust

South East Coast Ambulance Service

Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

NHS Kent and Medway ICB

NHS Surrey Heartlands ICB

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

Solent NHS Trust

Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust


Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Devon Partnership NHS Trust

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Found Trust 

Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

North Bristol NHS Trust

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust

Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT)

Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust

NHS Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire ICB (BSW Together)

NHS Devon ICB (One Devon)

NHS Dorset ICB (Our Dorset)

NHS Gloucestershire ICB (One Gloucestershire)


Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust

NHS Birmingham and Solihull ICB (BSol ICB)

NHS Black Country ICB


Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

NHS England

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

NHS West Yorkshire ICB


Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

Powys Teaching Local Health Board

Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust Headquarters

Hywel Dda University Health Board

Swansea Bay University Health Board

Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board

Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board

Velindre NHS Trust

Public Health Wales

Health Education and Improvement Wales Health Authority

NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership

Digital Health and Care Wales


NHS Borders

NHS Education For Scotland

NHS Fife

NHS National Services Scotland

NHS Shetland

NHS Western Isles

NHS Dumfries and Galloway

NHS Orkney

NHS Golden Jubilee

NHS 24

The State Hospitals Board for Scotland

NHS Grampian

NHS Tayside

NHS Ayrshire and Arran

The Highland Council

Healthcare Improvement Scotland

Public Health Scotland

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

Scottish Ambulance Service

NHS Lothian

NHS Lanarkshire

NHS Highland

NHS Forth Valley


Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council

Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Western Health and Social Care Trust

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Business Services Organisation

Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority

Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service

Public Health Agency

Northern Health and Social Care Trust

South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service


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