UNISON says East of England ambulances changes are ‘unacceptable’

Proposals include changes to meal breaks and ‘late finishes’ leading to compulsory overtime

UNISON is warning the East of England Ambulance Trust that proposals to change staff meal breaks and increase the amount of enforced overtime crews work because of late finishes are “unacceptable”.

The proposal, set out in an email to staff from chief executive Robert Morton on 17 March, include ending the right of staff to have a meal break at a base, where there are bathrooms and kitchens.

Instead, they give management a right to put an ambulance crew on a break five minutes after finishing with a patient, when they may be nowhere near a base or toilet and kitchen facilities.

The plans also include ending an agreement aimed at cutting the number of late finishes crews work, under which crews in the last hour of their shift only have to answer emergency calls.

Under the management proposals, crews in their last hour would also be obliged to answer non-emergency calls, increasing the likelihood of them having to work well beyond their shift end.

“For 10 months, the trust has promised to take steps to reduce enforced overtime for ambulance crews,” said UNISON branch secretary Fraer Stevenson.

“We have crews regularly working 14 or 15 hour shifts and recently one crew in North Norfolk were forced to work a 20.5 hour shift.

“This is a huge risk for patient safety and staff welfare. The chief executive and trust chair have both acknowledged staff are exhausted and working under enormous pressure.”

In fact, says the branch, Mr Morton wrote in a different email that the changes are “controversial, unpalatable and even draconian”.

Ms Stevenson added that there is “a growing divide” between the board and its front-line staff.

“This trust has the worse staff retention out of any ambulance trust in the UK,” she pointed out. These proposals are going to make the situation worse.

“Committed, experienced staff are voting with their feet and walking away. The biggest reason why the trust can’t meet its performance targets is the fact that it can’t keep its staff and these changes will make the situation far worse.

“Staff look to their chief executive and the chair for support and protection, especially when they are already struggling to cope with the pressures.

“Putting forwards these measures will destroy the trust placed in them by their staff,” she added.

“Ambulance staff and the general public deserve better leadership.”

Some 319 staff have left the trust ion 12 months, and a UNISON survey showed that 1,541 members identified enforced overtime as the main cause of stress they felt.

Management wants the changes to take effect from 29 March. The trust is due a CQC inspection starting on 1 April.