Unison’s Christina McAnea ‘hasn’t heard from Rishi Sunak’

A leading union boss revealed she is yet to hear from the Prime Minister despite him claiming his door is open as she joined striking ambulance staff in the North East.

Lifesaving ambulance staff walked out on Wednesday (January 11) for a second day of strike action in an ongoing dispute over pay and staffing numbers.

Paramedics and 999 call handlers from Unison and the GMB unions were among those on picket lines as the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) warned of greater disruption to services.

Read more: Paramedic who treated County Durham girl gave ‘no assessment beyond a cursory glance’

Speaking to The Northern Echo from a picket line in Chester-le-Street Unison General Secretary Christina McAnea claimed Prime Minister Sunak had failed to respond to her correspondence.

The Northern Echo: Unison boss Christina McAnea spoke to The Northern Echo from the Chester-le-Street picket line.Unison boss Christina McAnea spoke to The Northern Echo from the Chester-le-Street picket line. (Image: PA)

“Rishi Sunak says his door is always open, but he hasn’t contacted me.

“I’ve written to him and I’ve had no reply,” she said.

McAnea continued: “I think people know that it’s not the strikes that are causing chaos in the NHS – that’s caused by years and years of incompetence from the government.

“We’ve done everything we can to minimise the risk to patients, it’s the government putting peoples’ lives at risk by not engaging with us.

“I’ve said all along I’m happy to sit and talk to them about how we end this dispute.”

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“None of the people on the picket line want to be on strike, they want to be out looking after patients, but we’ve got to the point where there’s no other alternative – the ambulance service is in absolute crisis.”

The Northern Echo: Chester-le-Street picket lineChester-le-Street picket line (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Picket lines were formed across the region including in Gateshead, Bishop Auckland, Hartlepool, Ashington, Newcastle and Stockton as the number of staff walking out increased on December’s industrial action

In a positive step towards ending the dispute McAnea claimed that during talks on Monday the Health Secretary Steve Barclay “realised that the only way to resolve the dispute was to talk about pay for this year”, but when asked whether she was “confident” it could be resolved she said “confident is too strong of a word.”

Striking paramedics told of an “incredibly difficult” decision to strike but said they were hopeful of an end to the dispute.

Rapid Response Paramedic John Lennon told The Echo: “The government need to realise that they need to pay us to keep experience staff and staff us properly otherwise the situation is never going to get better.”

The Northern Echo: Striking Rapid Response Paramedic John LennonStriking Rapid Response Paramedic John Lennon (Image: Picture: CONNOR LARMAN/THE NORTHERN ECHO)

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On Wednesday morning Health Secretary Barclay told people to use their “common sense” when asked whether people should change their behaviour to avoid ambulance call-outs.

Mr Barclay told Times Radio: “The focus will be on those life-threatening incidents and ensuring those are addressed, but there will be strain on the rest of the system.

“So, we are just saying to people, use their common sense.”

It comes after the Government set out new laws on Tuesday which would require certain sectors, including the ambulance service in the North East, to deliver a minimum service level during strike action.

Read more: Sunak admits he has used ‘independent’ healthcare but is registered with NHS GP

But the new proposals, which have been slammed by Labour politicians and union leaders, are yet to be passed into law with the Government saying it hoped they would be in place before the end of the year.

Speaking of the new legislation Christina McAnea added: “The government are trying to bring in minimum service level legislation but the irony is the only day you will get those levels will be on a strike day.”

Members of the Unison and Unite unions are set to walk out again on Monday January 23 if the dispute is still not resolved.

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