A leading union boss has revealed she is yet to hear from the Prime Minister despite him claiming his door was open when she joined striking ambulance staff in the North East.

Ambulance workers walked out on Wednesday (11 January) for the second day of strike action over a long-running dispute over pay and staff numbers.

Paramedics and 999 call handlers from the Unison and GMB unions were among those on pickets as the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) warned of more service disruption.

Read more: The paramedic who treated the County Durham girl gave ‘no assessment other than a cursory glance’

Speaking to The Northern Echo from a picket in Chester-le-Street, Unison general secretary Christina Macaneo said Prime Minister Sunak had not responded to her correspondence.

The Northern Echo: Unison boss Christina Macaneo spoke to The Northern Echo from the Chester-le-Street picket.Unison boss Christina Macaneo spoke to The Northern Echo from the Chester-le-Street picket. (Image: PA)

“Rishi Sunak says his door is always open, but he hasn’t contacted me.

“I wrote to him and didn’t get a reply,” she said.

Makani continued: “I think people know that it’s not the strikes that are causing chaos in the NHS – it’s caused by years of government incompetence.

“We have done everything possible to minimize the risk to patients, the government is putting people’s lives at risk by not engaging with us.

“I’ve said all along that I’d be happy to sit down and talk with them about how we end this dispute.”

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“None of the people on the pickets want to strike, they want to be out looking after patients, but we’ve got to the point where there’s no other alternative – the ambulance service is in total crisis.”

Northern Echo: Chester-le-Street Picket LineChester-le-Street picket (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Picket lines have formed across the region, including in Gateshead, Bishop Auckland, Hartlepool, Ashington, Newcastle and Stockton, as the number of staff walking out increased following mass protests in December

In a positive step towards ending the dispute, Makanea said during talks on Monday Health Minister Steve Barclay “realised that the only way to resolve the dispute was to talk about this year’s payment”, but when asked if she was “sure” it could be resolved, she said, “confident is too strong a word.”

Striking paramedics described the decision to strike as “incredibly difficult” but said they hoped the dispute would end.

Paramedic John Lennon told The Echo: “The government needs to understand that they need to pay us to keep experienced staff and staff us properly, otherwise the situation will never improve.”

Northern Echo: John Lennon's flamboyant first responderParamedic Emergency Response John Lennon (Image: Photo: CONOR LARMAN/NORTHERN ECHO)

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On Wednesday morning, Health Secretary Barclay told people to use their “common sense” when asked whether people should change their behavior to avoid calling an ambulance.

Mr Barclay told Times Radio: “The focus will be on these life-threatening incidents and making sure they are dealt with, but the rest of the system will be strained.

“So we’re just saying to people, use your common sense.”

It comes after the government passed new laws on Tuesday requiring some sectors, including ambulance services in the North East, to provide a minimum level of service during the strike.

Read more: Sunak admits he used “independent” healthcare but is registered with an NHS GP

But the new proposals, which have been criticized by Labor politicians and union leaders, have yet to be passed into law and the government has said it hopes they will be implemented by the end of the year.

Speaking about the new legislation, Christina Makanea added: “The government is trying to introduce minimum service level legislation, but the irony is that the only day you get those levels is on a strike day.”

Union members Unison and Unite are set to walk out again on Monday 23 January if the dispute is still not resolved.

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