Ambulance workers will stage two further strikes in January amid a dispute over pay and staffing.
The Unison union says the industrial action will take place in England on 11 and 23 January.
The strike action will involve staff employed by London, Yorkshire, North West, North East and South West ambulance services.
It comes after 25,000 ambulance workers from Unison, Unite and the GMB unions walked out in coordinated strike action on 21 December – their biggest strike in 30 years.
Members of the GMB union at nine ambulance trusts are also preparing to strike on 28 December, while 1,000 union members in the Welsh Ambulance Service are set to announce strike dates in the new year.
Wednesday’s strikes took place after last-ditch crisis talks between Health Secretary Steve Barclay and unions failed to address the issue of pay.
About 600 members of the army, navy and RAF were drafted in from across the country to help during this week’s walkouts.
The majority of ambulance trusts in England declared critical incidents this week – meaning they were on their highest level of alert, fearing they could not provide usual critical services.
Ahead of Wednesday’s industrial action, the unions had called on the government to make an offer on pay and suggested an agreement could be reached.
Unions warn strikes will ‘escalate’
Unite’s Onay Kasab, who attended the Tuesday meeting, warned afterwards that ambulance strikes would “escalate” unless the government agreed to negotiations.
“Our members are absolutely determined to win not just the pay battle but to win the battle to save the NHS,” he said.
Mr Barclay said: “Further pay increases would mean taking money away from frontline services at a time when we are tackling record waiting lists as a result of the pandemic.”
On Thursday morning, the stalemate between unions and the government appeared to show no signs of abating, following two days of historic action from nurses and paramedics.
On top of ambulance worker strikes, NHS members of the Royal College of Nursing went on strike on 15 and 20 December calling for a rise of 5% above RPI inflation – 19.2% – as they said they have had a real terms pay cut of 20% since 2010.
They are also calling for better working conditions as nursing vacancies are at a record high so staff are stretched and regularly working beyond their shifts without extra pay.
In a tweet on Thursday, Mr Barclay said his door “is always open to talk to trade unions about concerns around working conditions”.
He is reportedly considering offering NHS staff a pay rise in spring in a bid to end strikes.
But he added: “We have an independent pay review body… and we will continue to defer to that process to ensure decisions balance the needs of staff and the wider economy.”
The pay review body (PRB) has recommended pay rises of around £1,400 – about 4% – for most NHS staff, but unions say this is not enough to keep up with soaring inflation.
The government says it can’t afford to make a new offer, but has not ruled out a new deal early next year.
Workers across several other industries are also set to strike in the build-up to Christmas.
Today, NHS Providers warned two days of strikes by nurses and paramedics will have a knock-on effect on appointments with a return to “very high numbers” of emergency calls in the coming days.
‘A challenging time for the NHS’
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, told Sky News that the next few days would be a “challenging time”.
Talking about structural issues impacting the NHS, she said: “Staff on the frontline are significantly overstretched and we need to see a real growth in the number of staff across the whole of the NHS.
“What we’ve got to see now is the government come to the table and have a serious discussion and negotiation about pay because this dispute is about pay and it’s also about working conditions and keeping patients safe.”
The chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, told Sky News that lack of investment in the NHS was now coming to the fore: “We know we had the 10 years of austerity. It meant we went into COVID with a hundred thousand vacancies, with a crumbling estate.
“So, what we’ve got now is a big gap between demand and capacity.”
He repeated calls to the government and trade unions to re-enter negotiations and to try to find a way of avoiding further strikes across the winter, saying: “We can’t afford to drift into further industrial action.”
‘Call 999 if you need to’
Appealing directly to anyone needing to use the NHS over the coming days, Mr Taylor said: “Primary care has not been affected by the industrial action… If you have concerns about your health, contact your GP. If you have an emergency, contact 999. If you’re not sure, ring 111. The services are there and do use them.”
The number of people calling 999 appeared to drop in some parts of England yesterday, and NHS Providers – the membership organisation for NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services – said there had been “varying levels of disruption” across the country.
It said some demand had shifted to other services or not materialised as expected.
But the organisation said demand for care across the whole healthcare system remained high and trust leaders were reporting ongoing delays to ambulance services and overcrowding at some accident and emergency departments.