More than 10,000 ambulance workers are to strike this month and the Health Secretary is to meet with unions as there is “still a question” if there will be cover for emergency callouts.
The GMB, Unison and Unite are co-ordinating industrial action across England and Wales and have said that there will be a response to life threatening incidents.
The unions have accused the government of ignoring demands for a decent pay rise as there is a “fundamental” crisis in the NHS.
Steve Barclay told Times Radio, “We’ve got further talks with the officials tomorrow on what are called the derogations – which bits of the service that they will offer.
“They’ve said that they will continue to offer life-threatening service, so that’s the cat ones.
“There’s a question in terms of whether they will cover all the cat twos – those are the emergency responses to things like heart attacks and stroke – so it is hugely important that those are also covered.”
He said category one calls for life threatening incidents needs to be addressed and category three and four calls are “still very important.”
Barclay added, “Clearly, if those are not covered because of the strikes, that places huge pressure.
“Of course, we can look at what contingency plans we can put in place, but they’re never going to cover the same amount as having 3,000 ambulances on the day, which is roughly what we have on a typical day.
“There is a risk if we can’t get ambulances to people.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The fundamental cause of the crisis in the NHS is massive understaffing, because workers are leaving the NHS in droves due to low pay and impossible workloads.
“Steve Barclay just doesn’t seem to get it. The first stage strategy to tackle the crisis involves creating a decent pay structure by making a decent pay offer. Otherwise the staff exodus continues and the crisis deepens.
“On average every health worker’s real pay is worth some 20% less than it was in 2010. A porter’s pay is down 21% in real value and a nurse’s pay down 26%.
“It seems as one commentator said recently the NHS staff are too important to strike but not important enough to get a decent wage.
“The health secretary has said his door is open but unless he is going to address pay increases which can begin to halt the staff exodus – and incidentally reduce the £1 billion being spent on agency staff every year- the NHS will continue to collapse.
“He needs to stop saying what he can’t do and start bringing forward real pay solutions.”
On 28 December, paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff will all strike.