THE army is being sent in to cover for ambulance staff in England and border staff across the UK as ministers seek to ensure public safety in the face of widespread strikes.

The UK Government is stepping up its contingency plans for industrial action in the week leading up to Christmas, with military personnel and civil servants lined up to help keep frontline services running through the festive period.

This week, ambulance workers and other NHS staff will stage a strike in England coordinated by the GMB, Unison and Unite.

In Scotland, strikes by ambulance staff and some NHS workers have been called off after members of Unison agreed to a pay deal with health chiefs.

READ MORE: UK Government to hold Cobra meeting as it faces widespread strikes

However a series of strikes by Border Force staff taking place across the UK from December 23 is expected to affect Glasgow Airport.

Arrangements have been made for 1200 members of the armed forces to plug staffing gaps in the health service in England and Border Force during walkouts over the Christmas period, as ministers prioritise their “chief concern” of public safety, the Cabinet Office said.

These include 600 ambulance drivers and a further 150 military personnel providing logistical support.

Community first responders will also be used to help manage demand for medical care.

Ambulance crews in England are due to walk out for two days on December 21 and 28 in a row over pay and working conditions.

UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he had listened to unions but reiterated the Government’s position that their demands are “not affordable”.

Barclay said:“My number one priority is to keep patients as safe as possible and we are stepping up preparations across government and the NHS, including making best use of the armed forces, volunteers and freeing up capacity to mitigate disruption and ensure safe staffing levels.”

But Unite, which is coordinating the ambulance strikes with GMB and Unison, accused ministers of “hollowing out” the NHS, insisting those taking industrial action are in fact “trying to save the service”.

The NHS will enact “tried and tested” plans to mitigate risks to patient safety and manage disruption, the UK Government said, while trusts will work with unions to agree on a safe level of cover.

Health chiefs have written to hospitals urging them to free up a maximum number of beds by safely discharging patients in advance of the ambulance strikes.

However Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned this will be a challenge.

While he agrees with the “principles” in the letter, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the demands will be “really difficult” to achieve.

Military personnel will also join more than 1000 civil servants to cover for striking Border Force staff, as members of the Public and Commercial Services union walk out for eight days from December 23 until New Year’s Eve.

They will help “minimise disruption for passengers” by checking documents and passports at airports effected by strikes.