Nurses at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are effectively being asked to do a shift a month unpaid amid proposed changes to working patterns, it has been claimed.
More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition protesting against the changes, which would mean nurses and midwives on day-long shifts taking a 60-minute break instead of 30 minutes. The issue has also reached parliament.
“Staff will inevitably end up working as much as they do now plus the additional shift”
Managers said the new rotas would increase the availability of nursing staff on the wards, were better for nurses’ own wellbeing and were fairer, reducing variation in the working patterns of nursing staff across the trust.
But hard-pressed nurses are adamant they will lose out because of difficulties taking time out when on duty.
Most currently work three 12.5-hour shifts per week and receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break. In order to make up the shortfall of 1.5 hours a week, they do a “catch-up” shift every eight weeks to balance things up.
Under the new arrangements, staff would still work three 12.5-hour shifts per week but would get a one-hour unpaid meal break. As a result, they will need to do a catch-up shift once a month to balance their hours.
However, staff said the reality of the change was that they would struggle to take a full hour’s break.
“Staff will inevitably end up working as much as they do now plus the additional shift,” said Scott Rowley, who launched the petition.
“The problem is staff already struggle to take their 30-minute meal break given the working pressures on the wards. It is unrealistic to expect they will be able to take an additional 30 minutes on top of this,” he said.
The petition on the change.org website, which is open to people across the globe to sign, has gained more than 4,160 signatures to date, including from nurses locally and in other parts of the UK.
“After doing this job for 32 years, I have never felt so under-valued,” commented one nurse, who added her name to the petition. “I’m disgusted beyond belief.”
“We want to improve rosters and improve staff availability – this will increase nursing and midwifery fill rates”
Another nurse supporter urged South Tees management to “get a grip”. “Stop dreaming up stupid ideas in your offices and get on the wards and departments and see how hard your staff are working,” she commented.
The issue has been raised recently in parliament by Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, who said the compulsory unpaid 60-minute break “will result in nurses effectively working one shift a month unpaid”.
“In their judgment, that will do nothing to address the real issues of staff shortages and patient safety but will merely disadvantage patients and nurses alike,” he told the House of Commons.
In response, health minister Ben Gummer promised to look into the matter. “All contracts should be governed by the Agenda for Change contract and I would be concern if there were deviations from that,” he said.
The trust’s director of nursing Gill Hunt has defended the changes, which are due to be introduced at the end of this month.
She said the proposed shift pattern was not new and was already used “successfully” in 12 wards at South Tees, as well as in other organisations.
Poulter out and Gummer in, as Tories reshuffle health ministers
The new rotas were designed to reduce variation in working patterns and break-times and “make the most efficient use of nursing and midwifery resource”, said Ms Gill.
“We want to improve rosters and improve staff availability – this will increase nursing and midwifery fill rates,” she said.
“Other key objectives include ensuring staff working long days have adequate breaks. This is both essential for their health and wellbeing and in relation to the safety of our patients,” she added.
Ms Hunt said she would listen to the views of frontline nursing staff.
“We are currently in a period of consultation in relation to the changes and are taking the time to listen to our staff on an individual and team basis,” she said.