Emergency plans are being drawn up for the Army to help the NHS cope with potentially crippling strikes this winter.
Officials are preparing for the Military Aid to the Civil Authorities protocol (Maca) to be activated if key services struggle to stay afloat during the walkouts.
The plans are understood to have been given more weight after it emerged ambulance drivers and paramedics are considering joining nurses on the picket lines in the coming months.
It means soldiers could end up having to drive ambulances and stand in for frontline hospital roles.
Health bosses fear the strikes could spread to junior doctors as well as cleaners, porters, catering staff and admin workers.
A spokesperson for the Government said: ‘Hospitals will do everything they can to ensure patients and the public are kept safe, however planned appointments may need to be cancelled and emergency care prioritised to those in need of urgent care only.’
The Ministry of Defence is already looking into ways military personnel could help the NHS but no formal request for help has been made, according to The Times.
Maca’s protocol states it can only be used when a ‘civil authority lacks the capability to fulfil the task and it would be unreasonable or too expensive to expect one to be developed’.
It was last used during the Covid pandemic, mostly for members of the armed forces to help deliver PPE and run some mobile testing sites.
Around 90 soldiers were also drafted in to help the Welsh Ambulance Service drive vehicles during the peak of the second wave of cases.
Nurses are set to go on a UK-wide strike next month, joining postal workers and rail staff who belong to the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has hinted at ‘positive’ progress in talks with the RMT but warned raising public sector pay in line with soaring inflation is ‘unaffordable’.
He told Sky News on Sunday: ‘I think we want to try and give all the workers in the public sector who work very hard decent pay rises, but they can’t be inflation-busting pay rises.
‘There simply isn’t the money to pay for those given the context, we haven’t seen those in the private sector either, the private sector pay rises have generally been settled below the level of inflation, which I accept is difficult for people.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has urged the nursing union to ‘come back to the table’ for talks.
But the union says he is declining to discuss pay in favour of discussions around pension arrangements, holidays, rosters and the availability of free coffee.
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