NHS chiefs were criticised today for warning ambulance crews in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough that they may lose their parts of their meal breaks because of high levels of demand on the service.
A message sent from the control centre to East of England Ambulance Service staff with details about their breaks was posted online yesterday (Sunday, December 16).
The message, which was sent out to ambulance staff at around 1.14pm, stated: “Afternoon all, can all staff please be aware of the following actions: Due to an increase in very high demand staff can now be used for C2 calls within their 15 minutes disturbable.
“Second action which has been agreed, staff are not to complete service journeys on their way back to stations for a meal break due to the increase in demand.
“Above all actions implemented by the Tactical Operations Cell.”
A ‘disturbable’ is a break that should only be interrupted for the highest priority calls.
C2 calls are serious but less immediately time critical and cover conditions such as chest pains, stroke and fits.
Ambulance staff are entitled to a 45 minute break in total when completing a 12 hour shift, 15 minutes of which can usually only be interrupted by the highest priority calls.
NHS staff took to Twitter to express their concerns about the statement made by bosses.
John Eyre, a paramedic in Buckinghamshire, wrote: “I don’t find this surprising. At @SCAS999 we only have 30 minutes anyway and have been restricted on refuelling etc on RTB’s for a while.
“They haven’t actually stopped their meal breaks, they are just under tighter rules. It would appear West Mids are lucky.
“For us it’s all to do with reducing late breaks and the cost they incur to the trust, it gets a little tedious when you need fuel and are told to refuel after the 30 minutes and then given a new job bang on 31 minutes. If you’re already late they don’t really mind/care.”
Tasha Starkey, a paramedic in Birmingham, wrote on Twitter: “Speechless... I can’t imagine that ever happening here even when we are over 4000 calls...
“Shouldn’t be like that though, it happened for a bit we couldn’t stop but it’s changed again for the better.
“I don’t think moral is toooo (sic) bad at the moment... it was horrendously low when we had to go to different stations for breaks but they changed that back to our own hubs.”
@Sam25121988 wrote: “All NHS ambulance staff are aware the 20 minutes can be disturbed if patient safety is at risk. What’s not allowed is to disturb the main 30 unpaid meal break.
“The non allowance of food stop is unacceptable though.
“Totally agree - The vehicle should remain in service for C2/C1 during this time, but 100% allowed. I’m sure the guys sat in the office were sure to get their food.”
However, the ambulance service have since clarified that the message sent did not rule out all rest breaks for crew members.
A spokesperson from the East of England Ambulance service said: “We want to clarify a message sent to crews earlier and apologise for any confusion it might have caused.
“We want to ensure our crews get rest breaks; however, we need to balance this against patient safety and there may be times when the last part of their break is used so we can respond to some of our sickest patients.
“Similarly with meal breaks, we would like to clarify that crews are allowed to collect food on their way back to station for their break.
“The welfare of our staff is of paramount importance.”