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Plans to change nurse break-times spark petition


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”

Scott Rowley

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 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”

Gill Hunt

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.

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Ben Gummer

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.


Readers' comments (27)

  • How about making compulsory breaks PAID. It's tough enough with trying to fit everything into a shift without staying late to finish off documentation.

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  • Lean healthcare? cough. Lol - oh dear- question 11 minutes per hr for patients at expense of employee ability to take a break? Quality or quantity?

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  • Agree with Sandy Beech. I take it teachers have paid breaks, given that they have to do playground duty on a rota? So why, when nurses are invariably working through breaks already, do they increase the break you are going to work through and then add insult to injury by making you work an extra day! Because they get another day out of you for nothing, silly. That's why!

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  • I agree with Sandy Beech...maybe paid breaks would demonstrate a commitment to care for.their staff....I am so dispirited that my beloved profession is valued so little.. I'm very glad I'm not starting in my career.... this is very possibly the final straw that will mean the loss of staff. In the words of Richard Branson...look after your staff

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  • We do this already. We are unable to take our full break due to being over worked. We are constantly being bullied for not finding the time to complete paperwork that is irrelevant to our area and end up staying late as our priority is to be with our critically ill, highly dependant patients. The management will not listen to us! The fourth long day is exhausting many staff are leaving as a result and our moral is at an all time low but the management ignore this despite us reporting it to them. I plan to leave this job soon. But they will replacement for some one with no experience but who costs less but that doesn't matter to the management. I fear for patient care and we are once again truly under valued.

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  • My trust this this about 2 years ago. Backfired mind you as a lot of staff cut their hours down so they didn't have to work the payback shifts. A lot of new staff are offered jobs as 34.5 hours a week now

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  • Stop taking from nurses, we should join forces with the junior doctors....

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  • Is the issue pay, safe staffing, patient safety or valuing staff? Last August UCL and Uni of Southampton published research that showed “ spite of limited evidence, 12 hour shifts have increased across the NHS without fully understanding the risks to patient safety and staff well-being”. The independent report was commissioned by the Chief Nursing Officer and is called ‘12-hour shifts: prevalence views and impact’ if your interested.

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  • I feel so sad. Twenty years ago I felt that I was a valuable member of the multi-disciplinary team being a registered nurse. After 18 years working elsewhere I returned to the NHS. I'm sorry to say it is unrecognisable. I used to love my job but now the pressure & stress is enormous. I can't understand why a wonderful healthcare system has been adulterated by politicians wanting the NHS run as a business. All I can say is that I am so grateful to have trained and worked during the 1980's when life was so much more enjoyable & patients were the priority before profit.

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  • Working in the private sector it is common practise to deduct one hour break but expect us to be on hand incase needed. 1hr @£15 x3=45 a week ,add that lovely sum up annually and it comes to a tidy saving off approx £1,800 savings per employee . time that by x nurses in a hospital or home . Now the employer is talking....It makes economical sense for the organisation but the nurses tend to get stressed and would prefer not to do overtime. As usual money and saving enter the equation. Bear in mind the job market for nurses is fairly sound if you are willing to be flexible and open minded about where you work.

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