Surrey Ambulance Strike 1989

1989, October: The military moved in to take over from the Surrey Ambulance Service when they went on strike. In addition to the military ambulances there were the Red Cross, St Johns, and some police vans.

A range of meetings were held by Surrey Constabulary with the chief ambulance officer, who was always fed up about the costs of using the police. Policeman cost a great deal more than an ambulance man as the salaries were far higher and the police intended to bill the NHS for everything. The high costs meant that the NHS had to consider what their best course of action was. Calling on the police and the military was not a cheap option. They would have no spare in their budget. In fact the opposite would be the case.

As with the prisons, the police had no wish to be involved in work for which they were not trained, and to act as strike breakers but ever mindful of the primary duty to protect life. In this case there was the added dimension of the close contact that the police had with the ambulance crews. Many had known and worked together for many years and there was a great deal of respect for the ambulance staff and always sympathy at their low levels of pay.

However, police duty to protect life, and if they did not do it who else could. The police constables did not let the Force down and there was no winging about taking on the role of ambulance crew, using a police van and equipment begged, borrowed and lifted from wherever it could be found.

The plans were in place but something triggered a walk out by the crews and the contingency plan had to be activated early, which was done effectively after significant phone calls and re-jigging. The strike went on for some time with the soldiers, sailors and airmen substitute ambulance officers based at police stations or drill halls around the county.

Operations Department Superintendent Bartlett was responsible for the operation working with the chief ambulance officer. It all went well and police were fortunate at the skill levels of some of the military personnel who were attached to the county and as always, the willingness of the police officer to get stuck in. Eventually the ambulance crews returned to work.

Mark Clark: I was B section patrol sergeant at Burpham and spent that month with my lads guiding the military and ambulance managers to jobs on the western side of the county. We were working from some of the older ambulance stations on the western side of the county, Burpham and Godalming were the two I was posted to escort, and from the TA centres too.

I was at the one in Sandfield Terrace in Guildford, which became almost home because this is where we escorted the Green Goddesses from during two of the Fire Brigade strikes. The Ghurkhas were billeted there and I don't think they've got rid of the curry aroma yet!

It went well and no-one died on our watch though that was probably more to do with the Almighty than our rather basic first aid skills. It was certainly tough for the ambulance mangers who were solo crewed and who relied on us to do as we were told at an incident. I made a very fetching drip stand on a number of occasions!

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