Devastating ambulance strikes were called off tonight in a massive breakthrough that could end a winter of chaos for the British.
Unions behind NHS strikes that have been going on for months have now agreed to discuss wages with Health Secretary Steve Barclay.
The ‘massive shift’ comes after 999 crew members dramatically vowed to escalate the strikes by refusing to respond to some heart attack and stroke victims.
Up to 45,000 paramedics were due to return to picket lines in England next week as part of the pay dispute.
GMB, one of the unions orchestrating the unprecedented industrial action, said ministers have agreed to discuss pay for both this financial year and the next, as a sign that NHS staff will be given a retroactive pay rise to avoid more chaos.
Unions have been given assurances that any increases in cash — which could cost billions — need not be ring-fenced from existing health budgets.
Steve Barclay agreed to meet with EMT and physiotherapist representatives if they call off planned union action
NHS ambulance union GMB has suspended planned strike action for next week after government agreed to open pay talks
This goes against No10’s claim that the 4 percent raise already given to staff was all the country could afford.
GMB strikes in Wales, which were also due to take place on Monday, have also been suspended for further talks with the government there.
Further talks with unions, which have demanded wage increases to stem inflation, and the Ministry of Health and Social Care will be held early next week.
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Secretary, said: ‘GMB ambulance workers announced a tightening of coverage derogations on strike days.
“Less than 24 hours later, we received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, inviting us and other unions to hold talks.
“This is a huge shift from the government, which has refused to consider any pay negotiations for months.”
She added that the government has also made some commitments on the talks.
“The government has secured extra money over and above existing budgets for both years and that any deal will respect the existing Agenda for Change structure,” she said.
“GMB’s ambulance workers have agreed to suspend the union action to allow talks to begin – however, the strike will return with a vengeance if talks fail.”
Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘Unions have been saying all along that they could suspend strikes if ministers only committed to formal talks to raise wages for this year.
“The government has finally committed to investing extra in wages for both this and next year.”
However, she criticized ministers for taking so long to get to the table, highlighting how this winter’s strike action had seriously disrupted patient care.
“The sad thing is that all of this could have been handled so differently. Proper wage negotiations should have started months ago, long before the first strike was announced,” she said.
“That would have prevented days of disruption for the NHS and its patients.”
Nearly 140,000 surgeries and appointments have been canceled due to NHS strikes this winter. That toll includes the largest-ever strike to upend the ailing health service on Feb. 6, involving tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics.
Whether the talks mark the beginning of the end of the current dispute will become clear in the coming days. If a deal can be reached, strikes can be ended and everyone can work together again to ensure the NHS gets back on track.”
However, she warned that the union would return to the picket line if talks failed.
It comes after a similar offer from the government to open wage talks between the nurses’ union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), led to the suspension of strikes due to be held this week.
That offer sparked outrage from other NHS staff unions, including GMB, with some ministers accusing them of playing ‘divide and rule’ tactics by only inviting the RCN to wage discussions.
This outcry had led GMB to say that paramedics certainly would respond to immediately life-threatening “category one” calls, where a person’s heart has stopped or they are not breathing.
This now-suspended strike escalation would see some ‘category two’ callers, such as people with heart attacks, strokes and severe burns, told to go to hospital themselves.