FirstFT: Patient safety at risk during UK ambulance strike

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British health chiefs have warned they cannot guarantee patient safety when ambulance workers launch strike action today, as Rishi Sunak refused to reopen this year’s NHS pay deal.

Health secretary Steve Barclay met ambulance unions yesterday to discuss cover for 999 calls during the strike in England and Wales, but the talks broke down with warnings that people could die as a result of the pay dispute.

“There will be delays, there will be a significant impact and lives could be lost,” said one ally of Barclay. “The unions have to take responsibility for that. It’s their strike.”

Christina McAnea, general secretary of the Unison union, responded by saying: “It’s ministers putting people’s lives at risk by refusing to negotiate with unions. Without a proper pay rise, escalation of action looks likely in the new year.”

Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said people could help avoid straining emergency services “by taking sensible steps to keep themselves and others safe”, including by “drinking responsibly”.

Will Quince, a health minister, urged the public to avoid “any risky activity” during the ambulance strike.

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1. Global media groups shed $500bn in value More than $500bn has been wiped off the market value of the world’s biggest media companies this year as investors sour on the streaming revolution. Intensifying competition, rising costs, consumer belt tightening and an advertising slowdown have also weighed on the industry.

2. Shortages of antibiotics as infections rise A surge in bacterial infections after countries lifted pandemic restrictions has led to shortages of antibiotic drugs such as penicillin and amoxicillin. Among 35 countries tracked by the World Health Organization, 80 per cent have an acute shortage of penicillin-related antibiotics, with the UK introducing “serious shortage protocols” last week.

3. Bankman-Fried signs documents paving way for extradition Sam Bankman-Fried yesterday signed documents to pave the way for his extradition to the US. He is due to appear in a Bahamas court this morning. The FTX founder’s lawyers told Reuters he would agree to extradition, paving the way for a swift departure from the Caribbean nation.

  • Bankruptcy case: FTX clients plan to vie for priority payouts, with lawyers arguing users should be treated as asset owners rather than creditors.

Sam Bankman-Fried at a Bahamas court after his arrest last week
Sam Bankman-Fried, centre, at a Bahamas court after his arrest last week © Dante Carrer/Reuters

4. Zelenskyy to visit Washington today Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to visit the White House and Congress today, coinciding with a vote on an annual $1.7tn spending bill that includes nearly $45bn in assistance for Ukraine. The visit will be the first time Zelenskyy has left his country since Russia’s invasion in February.

5. Khan pushes for early elections as Pakistan’s economy stumbles
The cricketer-turned-populist politician Imran Khan has vowed to dissolve two of Pakistan’s four provincial legislatures in a move expected to inflame political tensions as the country grapples with a worsening balance of payments crisis.

The day ahead

UK ambulance workers strike Ambulance staff across most of England and Wales will strike over pay as part of a co-ordinated effort by the three main ambulance unions Unison, GMB and Unite. More than 1,600 Unite members at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts will walk out.

Economic indicators GfK releases its consumer confidence survey for Germany, while the UK has November public sector finances data. The Conference Board publishes US consumer confidence figures for December, and Canada delivers its November consumer price index.

Corporate results Carnival and Rite Aid have quarterly results. Bunzl delivers a trading update, which is expected to show good revenue growth supported by numerous acquisitions announced over the past 12 months.

What else we’re reading

Glimmers of light in a terrible year Few will regret the passing of 2022, which has seen the war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, heightened market volatility and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, especially among the world’s poorest people. Yet the year also brought signs of hope, writes Martin Wolf.

How three factories are coping with Europe’s energy crisis The sternest test for factory owners will come in the costly winter months, when freezing temperatures and blackouts will push them to the brink. The Financial Times will follow the fortunes of three companies across the eurozone, covering the scale of the challenge, how businesses are coping and their hopes and fears.

Lessons from the gilts crisis Signs of financial instability have recurred since the gilts crisis in late September, which stemmed from pension funds’ so-called liability-driven investment strategies. The meltdown was an early warning about radical changes in financial markets and suggests pension systems might not be fit for purpose.

September mayhem in UK gilts; Yield on 20-year gilt (%)

Private equity moves into hospital ERs The private equity industry has made billions turning car washes, dentists’ offices and local businesses into efficiently run national chains. A “roll up” of hospital emergency rooms seemed like a sound plan — until they had to reckon with a backlash from doctors and regulators.

Grief tech’ avatars aim to take the sting out of death The trend towards AI-assisted grieving and “grief tech” could soon allow those left behind to interact more vividly with the dead. Companies such as HereAfter AI are building “legacy avatars” of living people that can be called upon after their passing to console the bereaved.

Pop music

Pop critic Ludovic Hunter-Tilney picks his 10 favourite albums of the year.

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr Morale & the Big Steppers’ is one of the writer’s favoured albums of 2022 © AP

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