BRADFORD paramedics have revealed the emotional toll of life on the frontline during a historic day of strike action.

Thousands of emergency workers joined together on picket lines across the country amid growing tensions over pay and the future of the NHS.

Cars beeped their horns in support as they drove past Bradford Ambulance Station on Wednesday.

Ambulance crews could be seen leaving the station on Northside Road, Lidget Green. While on strike, they are only responding to calls where someone is in a life-threatening condition. 

The Government has offered a four per cent pay rise to emergency workers - amounting to an additional £1,400 per head.

But the GMB union rejected the offer amid rising levels of inflation in the UK.

Around 4,000 workers in Yorkshire Ambulance Service’s (YAS) 7000-strong workforce took part in Unison and GMB’s first strike.

YAS declared a critical incident on Tuesday, December 20, to allow it to "protect our core services for patients and respond to ongoing demand".

One emergency worker said: “Obviously pay comes into question, without a shadow of a doubt.

“Money’s at the bottom of my agenda. The top one is working conditions.

“A lot of us are here because we’re considerate and want to help people. The Government’s closing down nursing homes, community centres, hospitals, we saw this coming but there’s a massive backlog.

“This is the last thing we wanted to do. But the Government are just not listening, they’re not willing to talk to us and come to an agreement.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Yorkshire Ambulance Service goes on strikeYorkshire Ambulance Service goes on strike (Image: Newsquest)

“We’re the highest in the health care profession that suffers with mental health, suicide. It’s just taking its toll on everyone.

“We work 60 hours a week, sometimes more. Monday, I did 15 hours. There’s no realistic work/life balance anymore.

“It’s about protecting the NHS.

“I’m supporting my colleagues in order to get better working conditions which at the moment are abysmal, no thanks to the Government due to underfunding. Ultimately the last thing on our mind is pay – but we deserve the right pay.

“We want the NHS to keep going for the rest of us in the future.”

The paramedic said a lot of staff are facing anxiety and PTSD from traumatic call-outs most days.

“It demoralises you,” he said.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: An ambulance drives through Bradford city centreAn ambulance drives through Bradford city centre (Image: Newsquest)

“They just see it’s ‘money, money, money’. It’s better working conditions, having a work/life balance and retaining staff.”

Another paramedic said: “You have to have a degree to become a paramedic and they realise after they’ve done the job, ‘I’ve got a degree, I’m working three weekends out of four, when I’m on a shift I’m missing Christmas, birthdays.’

“I’m in a small minority of 20 years’ service. There’s probably half a dozen. 85 per cent of our staff have got less than two years in. We can’t retain staff because people don’t want to do it. It’s not like it used to be.

“I could earn more money at Lidl as an assistant manager.”

The strike marks the biggest industrial action by emergency service personnel in 30 years.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Strike outside Bradford Ambulance StationStrike outside Bradford Ambulance Station (Image: Newsquest)

Health Secretary Steve Barclay accused trade unions of making a “conscious decision” to “inflict harm” on patients by striking.

Mr Barclay urged the public to take “extra care” after last ditch talks with the unions on Tuesday failed.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Barclay said: “We now know that the NHS contingency plans will not cover all 999 calls.

“Ambulance unions have made a conscious choice to inflict harm on patients.”

Union leaders insisted there would still be cover for the most serious calls through a series of local agreements.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said claims many serious calls would receive no response were “misleading” and “at worst deliberately scaremongering” by ministers.

Earlier, the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, which collectively represent all NHS organisations, wrote to the Prime Minister warning they were entering “dangerous territory” and urging him to end to the deadlock.

“With less than 24 hours to go until the ambulance strike, there is deep worry among NHS leaders about the level of harm and risk that could occur to patients tomorrow and beyond,” they said.

However, appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee, Rishi Sunak was adamant that the Government could not accede to inflationary pay claims which would simply stoke soaring prices.

A second day of strike action is due to be held on Wednesday, December 28.

Rachel Harrison, the GMB union national secretary, branded Mr Barclay’s comments “insulting”.

Ms Harrison told the BBC: “The sad reality is that patients are being harmed every single day, and that’s when we’re not on strike.

“The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives themselves report that the increasing number of handover delays and waiting times is leading to harm to patients and deaths.

“So, that’s happening when we’re not on strike. It’s issues like that which have forced our members into this position.”

Speaking ahead of the strike action on Tuesday, Nick Smith, executive director of operations at YAS, warned of fewer resources.

Mr Smith said: “With continued operational pressures and the added challenge of industrial action, we will have fewer resources available to respond.

“Services will be severely disrupted, with the likelihood of significant delays.

“Ambulances will still be able to respond during the strike, but this will only be where there is an immediate risk to life.

“Less serious calls will not receive a response for the duration of the strike action and some patients might be asked to make their own way to hospital, where it is safe for them to so.”

He added: “Looking ahead, we also anticipate that the days between the two strike days will be busy and as we head into the extended Christmas period and would urge everyone to continue to use our services wisely.”

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