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‘I come home exhausted, mentally and physically’- Cwmbran ambulance technician speaks out on why he decided to strike this week

Stefan stood by an ambulance
Stefan Cartwright

A Cwmbran man who has worked across the ambulance service for 27 years has spoken out on why he and his colleagues took part in a 24-hour strike earlier this week.

Stefan Cartwright, 46, is an ambulance technician for the Welsh Ambulance Service and a Unite Union representative. Tuesday’s strike followed a ballot of GMB members with a further day of walk outs planned on 11 January. Unite members have voted 88% in favour of strike action. The union said they will announce dates in early January.

Ambulance staff last went on strike in 1989/90.

Stefan told Cwmbran Life: “We are not holding the government to ransom. It’s about being appropriately paid for the job that we do. I earn just over £14 an hour as an ambulance technician. I drive with blue lights and at high speed, deliver lifesaving treatment and drugs, and assist my paramedic colleagues.

“I believe every job is like a jigsaw puzzle. In an operating theatre if the cleaner doesn’t come in after an operation and sanitize the equipment they can’t be used on someone else by the surgeons. Everyone is an integral part of a bigger picture.

Stefan stood by an ambulance
Stefan Cartwright

“You can go to Aldi and earn £12 an hour. That job is integral, we all have to eat. But I do lifesaving interventions on a daily basis when I’m in work, but am only paid £2 more an hour. That’s the pay side of it.

“We go above and beyond. We care about what we do, our doctors and nursing staff. We love the job passionately.

“The reason we have taken this stand is we have been hammered for two and half years (through the pandemic). People are back to calling 999 for all sorts of reasons, not life and death. It impacts across the NHS service.

“We are finishing late. My shifts are not 12 hours, sometimes they are 15 hours. I come home exhausted, mentally and physically.

“There is a lack of social care packages, placements at care homes, nursing homes and residential care.” Stefan claimed that across all sites in the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board there are “hundreds of people who don’t need to be in hospital (bed blockers)”.

He said people are not using the Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran for its actual purpose as a ‘specialist and critical care centre.’

“It’s a critical care centre, for people who are very sick, trauma. But people who live in Cwmbran will rock up with a painful wrist and wonder why they wait for 12 hours. They say ‘I live in Cwmbran, why should I drive to a minor injuries unit at the Royal Gwent or Nevill Hall?

“I get to a job and ask ‘why have you called today?’ and am told ‘I feel the same.’. I tell them ‘you’ve got a month-old ailment’. But they say they can’t get a GP appointment so call 999 to try and get taken to hospital to see one. There is a whole host of issues and background.”

He said people with minor injuries and “bed blockers” are causing problems with ambulance staff unable to ‘”offload” patients at hospitals and go out on new emergencies. This week he said he has spent some shifts just at the Grange University hospital taking over from other crews waiting to “offload” patients.

“Our nursing colleagues would love to have us in and out in 20 minutes.

“We are not asking for a lot. I would like a fair wage for a day’s week. I don’t think i’m asking for too much. People are leaving the service in droves. People are coming in from university and leaving after two years.

“I don’t want to want to strike. But I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t do it and make a stand we would just be taken for granted for evermore. It doesn’t do anything for our morale.”

GMB union response

Rachel Harrison, GMB Acting National Secretary, said: “Ambulance workers don’t do this lightly – and this would be the biggest ambulance strike for 30 years. But more than ten years of pay cuts, plus the cost-of-living crisis, means workers can’t make ends meet. They are desperate.

“But this is much more about patient safety at least as much about pay. Delays up to 26 hours and 135,000 vacancies across the NHS mean a third of GMB ambulance workers think a delay they’ve been involved with has led to a death.

“Ambulance workers have been telling the Government for years things are unsafe. No one is listening. What else can they do?”

Unite union response

Unite regional officer Richard Munn said: “The last thing our Welsh Ambulance Service workers want to do is strike. But they know they have to take a stand to prevent the NHS from total collapse. As with all NHS strikes, life and limb cover will be provided and ambulance workers will stand ready on the picket line to respond to calls if they are needed.”

Welsh Government response

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “Ambulances will only be able to respond to the most urgent calls on strike days.

“Please don’t add extra pressure on services on these days and consider carefully what activities you take part in tomorrow and on the 28th.It’s important to call 999 if you are in immediate danger, but we must all consider very carefully how we use ambulance services on these days.It’s vital that all of us, as users of our NHS, do all we can to minimise pressure on our health service during the industrial action.”

Watch a video of striking ambulance workers at Beacon House in Llantarnam earlier this week.

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‘I come home exhausted, mentally and physically’- Cwmbran ambulance technician speaks out on why he decided to strike this week