AMBULANCE workers are on strike today – prompting a warning from NHS bosses for patients to ‘think carefully’ before dialling 999.
Members of two unions – GMB and Unison – who work for the South Western Ambulance Service (SWASFT) walked out at 6am today (Wednesday) and will be on the picket lines until midnight.
Ahead of the action, SWASFT released figures for midday on Tuesday as an example of strains the service is under.
At that time, there were 473 patients waiting for ambulances across the South West, with 123 ambulances outside hospitals waiting to handover patients.
A combination of the cold weather, busy hospitals and the likely impact of the upcoming health service strikes are all contributory factors to the challenges the service is facing, SWASFT said.
The service covers the former Avon area – Bristol, North Somerset including Bath – South Gloucestershire (BNSSG), Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
On days where there is strike action, the service said patients should only call 999 if it is a medical or mental health emergency – when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.
Ambulances will still be able to respond in these situations, but this may only be where there is the most immediate risk to life.
Where the situation is not life-threatening, alternative support will be available through NHS 111 online or through calling NHS 111, and where possible, it is advised that you arrange alternative transport.
Will Warrender, chief executive at the South Western Ambulance Service, said: “Please help us to help those patients who need us most by only calling 999 if a patient has a life-threatening condition or illness.
“We know there are patients waiting for an ambulance, and we will get to you as soon as we can. We are sorry that we are unable to respond as quickly as we would like.
“We are doing all we can to manage winter pressures and the upcoming industrial action, including receiving military support during industrial action days which will allow our ambulance clinicians to be manning more ambulances and reach patients more quickly.
“The public can help us by only calling 999 for life threatening emergencies, we absolutely must have crews available for the most life-threatening conditions and we will be prioritising these patients.
“Please do not call back asking for an estimated time of arrival of an ambulance. We cannot provide this information and it blocks our lines from other callers reaching us.
“If the condition of a patient is not life-threatening we may direct you to alternative services. So please help us by accessing the right service for the care you need.
“I’d like to express my huge thanks to our people and NHS partners working to deliver the best possible care they can for our patients over the coming weeks.”