Christina McAnea tours pickets on second NHS strike day

The general secretary visited picket lines across Yorkshire and the North East yesterday to show support and solidarity for UNISON’s ambulance workers on strike

Unison General Secretary, Christina McAnea, visits picket lines at Ambulance stations across Yorkshire, in support of striking Ambulance and support crews. Photo shows the Longley Ambulance Station, Sheffield.
Photos ©Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

Christina McAnea spent the second joint union NHS strike day, yesterday 11 January, touring picket lines in Yorkshire and the North East to show her support and solidarity for the striking ambulance workers.

She began the day in Sheffield at Longley ambulance station where, as they did across the county, paramedics walked out at 10am.

As the picket was set up, she spoke to the workers about why they were striking and, once the brazier was burning, addressed the strikers and the press who had gathered.

Speaking of the recent development where the secretary of state for health had acknowledged that, to deal with this crisis, the government would have to talk to the unions about pay for this year, rather than pay for the future, Christina said: “There’s been lots of speculation about what offer they might come back with, but nothing formal has been put forward yet, that’s why today’s strike has gone ahead.

“We have another strike planned for the 23 January, which gives the government about a week and a half to try and sit down with us and resolve this before we have to take another strike day.

“My door is always open and I’m happy to turn up at their door any time to talk to them about pay.”

She said that the move by the government to bring minimum service levels in during strikes was an “absolute distraction”, adding that it would mean then the NHS “would only have minimum staffing levels, when on strike.”

As though to illustrate the point, just before she began her speech, several members of the press were forced to move after two workers were called off the newly formed picket line and jumped in an ambulance to respond to an urgent call – as had been negotiated by the unions and employers in providing life and limb cover.

She continued, saying the move from the government shows it isn’t tackling the dispute, but is ”trying to take everybody’s eye off the ball and get us looking ‘over there’ instead of looking at what the crisis actually is”.

She finished by thanking the strikers, saying she knew “this is not what you want to be doing – you care about the patients and the public you look after, but you have our full backing from our union and my huge gratitude to you for the courage it has taken you to be here today”.

Two paramedics smile and hold 'official picket' placards outside Longley ambulance station, Sheffield

Unison General Secretary, Christina McAnea, visits picket lines at Ambulance stations across Yorkshire, in support of striking Ambulance and support crews. Photo shows the Longley Ambulance Station, Sheffield.

Photos ©Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

Christina then travelled to Rotherham and Wath ambulance station. There she met a long-serving patient transport service team with over 75 years experience between the three of them, Wendy, Michaela and John. They spoke, clearly emotional over the situation, about how their job has changed over those years.

Wendy said: “Years ago, we used to take patients home from discharge, we used tp make fires for them, make cups of tea or coffee, or get them bread and milk because they’ve got nothing in the house when they arrive back.”

Now the team can’t do that “because we’ve not got time, its job after job after job”.

John said: “We came into this job because we care about people. Now it feels like they’re taking that away from us. Sometimes we even take people home and have to lock them in the house. Which, to me, is not right.”

“We hate doing that,” Wendy added.

“They’re locked in, and they haven’t got the mobility to get to the door,” John continued. “God forbid if there’s a fire. We have to lock them in and put the key in the key safe so the carers can get in. But the carers might not be there for another three or four hours”.

On the degradation of relationships between colleagues, Wendy said, “A big thing is the camaraderie amongst us, there’s none of that because we’ve not got time for it, there’s no meeting up anymore”.

“The hospital used to provide us with a crew room, we could have a cup of tea and a bit of a chat,” said John. “Now we hardly see each other.”

Wendy finished by saying: “We used to love coming to work, but now it gets to Sunday night and I get anxiety, that’s where we’re at.”

Christina McAnea stand on Wath ambulance station picket line with striking ambulance workers while waving at a honking car passing by

A woman ambulane worker holds a flag over her should with a small brazier fire and blue sky in the background

Photos ©Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

Next stop was York ambulance station. Throughout the day there was strong support from the public, with one man coming up to the picket to thank the ambulance workers as the service had recently saved his wife’s life, as well as a number of other people who came to bring food and drinks to the strikers.

Across the region 999 call-handlers, who had not walked out in the initial strike just before Christmas, were also striking from their various centres in batches so as to keep providing cover to protect patient safety.

Christina stands on York ambulance station picket line behind a flaming brazier with strikers holding, including one holding a young child in their arms

Cathy Newman interviews Christina McAnea on camera in front of an ambulance at York ambulance station

Photos ©Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

A train to Durham and a quick car ride saw Christina arrive at Chester-le-street and, by virtue of its position on a busy roundabout, the loudest strike of the day with drivers continually serenading the strikers and signalling their support by honking their horns.

There the general secretary was joined by Wilma Brown, chair of UNISON’s health service group executive, who had travelled down from Scotland to offer support, along with members of UNISON’s NEC, Helen Firman and Pat Heron.

From L-R Wilma Brown, Christina McAnea, Pat Heron and Claire Williams

Ambulance strikers at Chester le street stand in front of a pink ad van which says "from the frontline to the breadline"


Christina finished her tour of the pickets in Gateshead ambulance station where the picket took place on the aptly named ‘Windy Nook Road’.

Speaking to a crowd of strikers she said: “It’s not the strikers putting the public at risk, its this government. We’ve been asking the government for six months to do something to resolve this and they’ve sat on their hands the whole time. It’s time the government did the grown-up thing and did something.”

She concluded by telling them: “You have the full support of our union and you absolutely have the public support. We are all hugely grateful to you and the work that you do.”

Christina McAnea with strikerson the ambulance picket line in Gateshead after dark in front of an ad van reading "from the frontline to the breadline"