Belfast Telegraph

Ambulance workers to go on strike

Hundreds of 999 calls will not receive an emergency response due to a strike by ambulance workers in Northern Ireland.

Managers predicted approximately 330 calls on Friday will be affected, including some stroke patients, elderly people who have fallen in their homes or on the street, some road traffic collisions and children who have sustained broken bones after falls.

Immediately life-threatening calls will be dealt with.

A 24-hour strike is planned by health, education, transport and civil service workers protesting against job cuts and the Stormont House political deal.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said: "There will then be approximately 330 calls on Friday which will not receive a 999 response and include some stroke patients, elderly patients who have fallen in their homes or on the street, some road traffic collisions, children who have sustained broken bones after falls among many more."

Talks between Northern Ireland's health unions and management have been taking place in Belfast over emergency cover during the strike.

An ambulance service spokesman said: "While acknowledging their right to so do, NIAS regrets that the trade unions have pursued this line of action which withdraws emergency services for the majority of those who have need of it and puts lives at risk."

No agreement has been reached regarding urgent but not immediately life-threatening calls, which account for approximately 60% of 999 calls.

Trade union members have agreed to provide non-emergency transport for palliative care patients, oncology patients, renal patients and paediatric patients. All other patient care service activity has been cancelled, the ambulance service said.

"As a result of the trade union stance on responding to category A calls only, your ambulance service has been forced to a position whereby category B and C calls will only be dealt with following long delays and, potentially, when the strike action has been completed at midnight on Friday night. We anticipate that a serious backlog will have accumulated.

Immediately life-threatening 999 calls include chest pain, unconsciousness, choking, and severe blood loss, among others. These calls will be responded to by those members taking industrial action and account for 40% of 999 calls received.

NIAS chief executive Liam McIvor said: "From midnight on Thursday to midnight on Friday, life-threatening 999 emergencies will get an ambulance response.

"People with less serious injuries or illnesses may need to make their own way to hospital or seek advice from GP's or pharmacists.

"To help us get to the most seriously ill and injured we would ask that people only phone 999 when they have a genuine need for an ambulance and we hope to restore our normal service as soon as possible."

Union leaders have warned that the action will be the biggest in many years and tens of thousands of workers will strike.

Workers are angry at Stormont budgets that have cut multi-millions off public spending; a voluntary redundancy scheme to reduce the Civil Service by 20,000; and a proposed cut in corporation tax in Northern Ireland.

Public transport services across Northern Ireland will be cancelled. Operator Translink will be unable to run any buses or trains.

Members of the Unison, Nipsa and GMB unions working in health, education, the Civil Service, transport and a range of other public sectors fields will strike.

Patricia McKeown, regional secretary at Unison, said: "Confidence in our political system is at an all-time low. If our politicians wish to restore confidence in a system which could work if they demonstrated that they really have the best interests of the people at heart, then now is the time to reverse the damaging decisions.

"Workers and the public alike are demanding their rights.

"Tomorrow is one expression of the anxiety and betrayal felt by our members and their communities."

The fate of the redundancy scheme, next year's Stormont budget and the devolution of corporation tax powers from Westminster to Belfast are shrouded in uncertainty after a political row over welfare reform threatened the Stormont House Agreement in which those proposals were included.

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