People with chest pain on Wednesday should call 999 despite an ambulance strike in England and Wales, Health Minister Will Quince said, but he admitted people with such pain waited an average of 47 minutes .
People with chest pain or having had a bad fall — Category 2 cases — were waiting more than an hour in some areas, Quince admitted. But he insisted that life-threatening emergencies would be covered on Wednesday and the most critical Category 1 calls were answered in less than 10 minutes.
“If you have chest pain call 999 and the wait is, and I have been very clear with you, I don’t think there is a paramedic, an EMT, anyone working in our NHS, whether he’s on a picket line or not, it wouldn’t answer a 999 call where someone has chest pains and there’s a threat of a heart attack,” he said. he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday.
Paramedics will stage another strike on Wednesday, involving up to 10,000 workers. Union officials suggested that paramedics, call handlers and emergency care assistants would leave the picket lines for the most serious cases. Those who are members of the GMB will then strike again on 28 December.
The North East Ambulance Service, which covers Northumberland, Durham, Teesside and Tyne and Wear, has declared a critical incident as it struggles to cope with demand.
The incident was declared on Monday following “significant delays for more than 200 patients waiting for an ambulance”, the service said. There had also been “a reduction in the availability of paramedics to respond due to delays in treating patients at area hospitals”.
Stephen Segasby, chief operating officer of the service, said: “Our service is under unprecedented pressure. Declaring a critical incident means we can focus our resources on the patients who need them most and communicate the pressures we face to our health system partners who can provide support. We ask the public to call us only in life-threatening emergencies. For all other patients, we urge them to use www.111.nhs.uk, speak to their GP or pharmacist.
Meanwhile, nurses are on strike for a second day on Tuesday. Royal College of Nursing director Pat Cullen said there was currently no avenue for negotiation with the government to end the industrial action as ministers would not discuss wages.
“Unfortunately more nurses will be involved in future strikes and other hospitals will also be included in industrial action in the future,” she said. “Those decisions have not yet been made, but what I will say is that in any future industrial action, safety will be the first consideration for us as the Royal College of Nursing and for all the nursing staff I represented.”
Up to 100,000 RCN members will take part in the strike after it votes for its members in October. He said low pay is the cause of chronic understaffing which puts patients at risk and leaves NHS staff overstretched.