Police officers have expressed “grave concern” after being told they may be called on to drive ambulances when paramedics go on strike this month.
Under national contingency plans, it was understood that military personnel would be drafted in to help drive ambulances when the walkouts go ahead just before Christmas.
Now it has emerged that police officers may also be called upon to help drive the emergency healthcare vehicles.
The Police Federation, the body representing around 140,000 rank and file officers, said that “police are not ambulance drivers or qualified paramedics”.
Steve Hartshorn, its national chairman, said the request is of “grave concern” as he warned that putting officers in ambulances would mean they are “not performing their police duties”.
The staff association said that the “thin blue line is already overstretched and under pressure like never before”.
Ambulance crews in England will strike on 21 and 28 December as part of coordinated industrial action by the GMB, Unison and Unite unions in a row over pay.
Mr Hartshorn said police officers are “unable to express our own frustrations through strike action, even though we step in as a last resort to ensure public safety when others strike”.
He added: “It is no different with the ambulance workers’ strike as our members are being asked to step in and drive ambulances.
“It shouldn’t need saying, but police are not ambulance drivers or qualified paramedics.”
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Mr Hartshorn said that although some officers may be uniquely qualified to drive an ambulance, “this is where the similarity ends”.
“I have genuine concern for any officer who may be exposed to medical emergencies they are not qualified to act on,” he said.
“The human consequences are awful to imagine, but we must consider the legal responsibilities and practicalities too.
“Should a patient die in the presence of a police officer, or within a period of time of being with a police officer, that officer is referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct for investigation.”
Sky News has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.
Military ‘has just 40 paramedics’ who could work in NHS
It has emerged that the armed forces have just 40 paramedics who would be qualified to work in the NHS.
Andrew Murrison, the defence minister, said that of the 107 paramedics serving in the military, 40 have the qualification requirements set out by the Health and Care Professions Council.
The details, set out in a written answer to Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper, were disclosed as ministers prepare to send out troops to cover for striking ambulance staff.
It is understood that troops are unlikely to be used to drive ambulances to respond to urgent calls, although they could be used for non-urgent cases to free up paramedics.
Ambulances will be dispatched to “life-threatening” Category 1 calls during the two days of industrial action this month but may not attend if an elderly person has a fall, Health Secretary Steve Barclay has previously suggested.
Service personnel have already been training at Heathrow and Gatwick to assist in checking passports at the border as the UK braces to a wave of strakes across multiple sectors.
Other sectors set to strike over the course of December include civil servants, nurses, driving examiners, Royal Mail workers, national highway workers and baggage handlers as unions seek pay rises to match soaring inflation in the cost of living crisis.