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Military fills gaps in UK healthcare strike

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily | Updated: 2022-12-20 09:11

NHS nurses hold placards during a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, outside St Thomas' Hospital in London, Britain Dec 15, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

The United Kingdom will turn to members of its military when ambulance workers go on strike over pay this week.

Britain is bracing for disruption across its National Health Service as nurses in many hospitals and community teams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland, will also stage walkouts before Christmas.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing were to strike again on Tuesday, following action on Thursday, which was the first industrial action by the nurses' union in its 106-year history.

On Wednesday, members of the major workers' unions GMB, Unite and Unison, which are mostly ambulance staff, will go on strike, and members of GMB will stage industrial action on Dec 28.

Analysis by The Guardian noted that concerns about the most serious effects of the strikes focus on ambulance services. Unions have committed to attending life-threatening incidents, but have yet to clarify which emergency calls will be given priority.

According to government statements, less serious calls will be offered "support", but those requiring an ambulance are likely to face longer waits or may need to use alternative transport.

The Royal College of Nursing has said that hospitals' critical care units, including intensive care, will be "exempt from the strike action", and emergency care in hospitals will continue to be available across all parts of the country, and general practitioners, or GP, services are not impacted.

The head of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, said he was "reasonably confident that we won't see severe patient harm". There would be disruption to planned care, such as nonemergency operations and outpatient appointments, and patients could generally expect a "bank holiday-level of service" in hospitals, he said.

Arrangements have been made to deploy armed forces personnel to drive ambulances during the emergency workers' strike action, but extensive disruption is still expected.

Military forces have also been drafted in to cover for Border Force staff who will go on strike at eight of the UK's largest airports from Friday. Reports say military personnel could also serve as firefighters if members of the Fire Brigades Union were to vote for industrial action.

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