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Monday, January 30, 2023

UK Medical Staff and Rail Strike Worsens, Army Deployed

Train and Medical staff strike in UK has worsened further amid Christmas vacations at the corner. Citizens are facing extreme hardship in travelling and medical treatment for last few weeks.

About 1,200 army personnel and 1,000 civil servants are to be called in to cover striking ambulances and Border Force staff over Christmas.

The government says the staff will fill staffing gaps and keep frontline services running.

Around 10,000 ambulance staff in England and Wales will strike on December 21 and 28 over a pay dispute.

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The union says military personnel are not “sufficiently trained” to maintain frontline services.

But Health Secretary Steve Barclay said his “number one priority” was to keep patients safe.

Meanwhile, the main union representing Border Force staff is set to walk out for eight days between December 23 and 31, with significant disruption expected for people traveling over Christmas.

The government said civil servants would join military personnel to help “minimize disruption to travellers” by checking documents and passports.

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Nurses, rail workers, Royal Mail staff and other sectors have also taken industrial action in recent weeks over pay disputes amid rising living costs.

The government announced it will publish a new “resilience framework” on Monday to improve the way the UK prepares for and responds to critical issues such as strikes.

The framework will “bring together all levels of government, critical national infrastructure operators, the private sector, charities and the public to strengthen our national preparedness for these risks”, the Cabinet Office said.

‘Tried’

Ambulance strikes will only affect non-life-threatening calls. But hospitals have been warned by NHS chiefs to prepare for “extensive disruption” during walk-outs and to free up beds to make it easier to move people through A&E and get paramedics back on the road quickly.

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The health service will put in place “proven” plans to reduce risks to patient safety and disruption, the government said, while individual NHS trusts will work with unions to agree safe levels of cover.

Army, Navy and RAF units will be deployed. Around 600 members of the armed forces are to take charge of the ambulances and 150 personnel will provide logistical support. Community paramedics will also be used to help manage the demand for medical care.

The coordinated walkout was called by the three main rescue workers’ unions – Unison, GMB and Unite.

All three take action on December 21. GMB union members will go on strike again on December 28.

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Mr Barclay described the decision to go ahead with strikes as “deeply regrettable” and reiterated the government’s position that the demands of striking unions were “not available” – but also said he was “open to further discussions”.

“My number one priority is to keep patients as safe as possible and we are stepping up preparations across government and the NHS, including making the best use of the armed forces, volunteers and releasing capacity to mitigate the disruption and ensure safe staffing levels,” he said. added.

Unite accused ministers of “emptying” the health service and labeled those on strike as “trying to save” the NHS.

GMB and Unison accused ministers of deciding to “dig their heels in” on pay while the NHS is “already on its knees”, adding that disruption now looks “inevitable”.

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Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, also warned the army was “no substitute” for trained ambulance drivers, adding: “The hours spent on emergency planning could have been better spent trying to prevent strikes.”

The armed forces chief has warned against viewing troops as a “free option” when it comes to covering strike action.

The Chief of the Defense Staff, Admiral Tony Radakin, told the Sunday Telegraph: “We have no spare capacity. We are busy doing a lot of things on behalf of the nation – we need to focus on our primary role.”

However, he declined to discuss “political debates”, stressing that the military is run by the government to “serve the nation”.

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Rail Ticket sales have been stopped

Around 1,000 Border Force staff working in passport control will leave on December 23-26 and 28-31 at Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester airports, as well as at the port of Newhaven.

About 75% of Border Force staff are members of the Public and Commercial Services union, which voted for strike action after it said the government had refused to increase its offer of a 2% pay rise.

As a result, some airlines have stopped selling new tickets for arrivals at Heathrow in the days of the Border Force strike at Christmas, the BBC understands.

In an effort to better manage the flow of people through border control, the government has asked airports to expect passenger numbers on strike days to be higher than 70-80% of 2019 levels.

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The Home Office previously said it was “extremely disappointed” by the PCS union’s decision, warning it would cause “significant inconvenience” to passengers over Christmas and “passengers should be prepared for disruption and take steps to plan ahead”.

The PCS accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of “moving” to get “everyone she can” to cover for border staff and also echoed paramedic unions’ concerns that military personnel and other civil servants were not “sufficiently trained”.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are expected to walk out for the second time on December 20 in parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following the December 15 event.

The nurses’ union said it would set a deadline of 48 hours after the strike ends for ministers to agree on pay talks – otherwise wider action will be announced in the New Year.

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The government said the pay rise for ambulance and nurse workers was decided by independent pay review bodies – which recommended a pay rise of around 4.75%.

With inflation running at over 10% and many struggling with the rising cost of living, unions said this represented an unaffordable pay cut.

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