As ambulance workers prepare for their latest industrial action, taxi drivers are once again getting ready to help the sick and injured.
Just before Christmas, the NHS was crippled by industrial action by nurses and ambulance workers which led to government warnings for people not to get drunk during the festive celebrations, and to use taxis instead of ambulances to get to hospital. The NHS in Greater Manchester even advised GPs to pay for taxis for patients who could not get to hospital without an ambulance, and offered to reimburse them for doing so.
The festive walkout – over pay at a time of soaring inflation – saw ambulance staff take action on December 21 and 28, with further 24-hour strikes scheduled for January 11 and 23. These will again affect London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West. But unlike the previous walkouts, the latest action will involve all ambulance employees represented by Unison, not just the 999 response crews.
If the strikes go ahead, the advice from the government is again likely to be that people who are sick, injured or in labour to make their own way to hospital, with ambulances only being sent for life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrests.
It is not the first time that taxis have stepped up to help the emergency services. In August last year, it was revealed that more than 20,000 patient journeys were made by taxi when an ambulance had been called. While private hire and public hire taxi drivers helped with less-serious cases, it was a vote of confidence in the taxi fleet that it can be relied on to help people who are ill and vulnerable.
Taxi drivers play an important role in their communities and often take people to GP, dental and other medical appointments, but such is the pressure on the NHS that the vital work they do is now being recognised.
One of the main reasons taxi drivers can be trusted to transport vulnerable patients is because they are vetted as part of a regulated industry. As well as being qualified and safe drivers, they also have to undergo a variety of ongoing checks to ensure they are suitable to continue working with the public.
Their vehicles have to be maintained to high standards of safety and cleanliness, and as well as being licensed by the local council, they have to have either private hire insurance or public hire insurance to make sure that they, their passengers and other road users are covered in the event of a collision.
And with booking apps making it easier to track taxis and for drivers to locate their fares, patients have that reassurance that their ride is on its way – something that gives them peace of mind, especially after the ordeal of having to undergo hospital treatment.
During the industrial action, the NHS advice is to ring for an ambulance only in an emergency and to continue to attend medical appointments, unless told otherwise.
For those that will need taxis to get them to hospital, it is advisable to book in advance so they know that they will get there when they need to.
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