Members of the armed forces will be forced to drive ambulances later this month as the government struggles to cope with the impact of a wave of industrial action.
Around 10,000 ambulance workers in England and Wales are set to walk out on December 21 in a dispute over pay.
Downing Street this morning confirmed to HuffPost UK that a “military aid to the civilian authorities” (MACA) request has been submitted so that a limited number of ambulances can still respond to call-outs that day.
The move came as the government’s emergency Cobra committee prepared to meet to come up with a plan to deal with strikes by NHS workers, postal staff, rail employees and Border Force officials in the run-up to Christmas.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden will chair two Cobra meetings this week along with health, transport, home office and defence ministers.
Military personnel and civil servants are being trained to support a range of services, including Border Force at airports and ports in the event of strike action.
The armed forces are also being deployed to hospital trusts across the country to familiarise themselves with ambulances ahead of next week’s strike.
But Alan Lofthouse of Unison, which represents ambulance workers, told Sky News this morning: “I think that all of our ambulance workers in Unison respect the military and respect the support that they’re offering, but [our members] are highly-trained, urgent emergency care workers who know how to work in the NHS.
“The military can’t just be put in place of ambulance workers and expect that the service is going to run as normal.
“I mean, it’s a great offer by the military, but it’s not going to go anywhere near stopping the strikes and walkouts that are due to happen on the 21st.”
The row came as ministers continued to refuse to sit down with NHS unions in a bid to avert the strikes.