UK ambulance workers accuse government of demonising them

In letter to Rishi Sunak, GMB union members say they feel ‘utterly betrayed’ by attempts to portray them as ‘uncaring about safety’

A group of ambulance workers has sent a furious letter to the prime minister saying they feel “utterly betrayed” by the government’s attempts to paint them as “uncaring about safety standards”.

Steve Rice, the head of the GMB union’s ambulance committee, sent Rishi Sunak a letter on behalf of ambulance workers protesting against the government’s plans to introduce anti-strikes legislation.

“We feel utterly betrayed by the way your government has singled out ambulance workers as part of a crude attempt to remove our right to strike,” the letter said.

It comes after Sunak described widespread industrial action as “terrifying” as the government introduced a bill to parliament that would set minimum service levels for health, fire, education, transport, nuclear decommissioning and border security services.

He told the Commons on Wednesday: “What is terrifying is that right now people do not know whether, when they call 999, they will get the treatment they need.”

On Tuesday, the business secretary, Grant Shapps, told MPs that a “lack of timely cooperation from the ambulance unions” was “putting constituents’ lives at risk”.

In the letter Rice writes: “You and your ministers should be ashamed of the way you have tried to paint us as uncaring about safety standards – nothing could be further from the truth.

“We want a constructive relationship with government – to talk about pay and seriously improve conditions throughout the ambulance service. But you are making us and our ambulance colleagues feel demonised.”


Downing Street told the BBC that Barclay was open to talks with unions and it had accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendation to give 1 million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year.

A spokesperson added: “However, we must keep the public safe, which is why we are introducing minimum service and safety levels across a range of sectors to ensure that lives and livelihoods are not lost.”

Downing Street has warned health ministers they will have to find savings from their existing budgets if they want to offer NHS workers more money in an effort to end the growing wave of strikes.

No 10 said there would be no increase in the health department’s budget as ministers look for a way to resolve the protracted industrial dispute.

The warning came after the Guardian reported Barclay had privately conceded he would have to increase the pay offer to NHS staff to get an agreement with health unions.

On Friday, Sunak said he hoped to “find a way through” the deadlock with unions to avert further industrial action.

He told broadcasters during a trip to Scotland: “I think with strikes it’s important that we remain in strong dialogue with the unions, that’s why the government invited all union leaders in to have those discussions.

“The discussions are ongoing and hopefully we can find a way through.”

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland on Friday paused a formal announcement of strike action after further talks with the Scottish government.

Pat Cullen, the RCN general secretary, said: “The Scottish government has shown a willingness to return to the negotiating table and to act to address the nursing workforce crisis.

“The pressure from our members has been key to these negotiations moving forward. We need to see this process through in good faith.”

  • PA Media contributed to this report


Kiran Stacey, Political correspondent, and agency

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