A temporary change to meal break arrangements for ambulance service workers is being made to reduce the risk to patients amid sustained significant pressures being felt across the NHS.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) currently requires workers to return to base for their meal breaks. However, a recent review found emergency crews could potentially be unavailable for nearly 60 hours due to the travelling time - equivalent to 37 additional responses a day.
NEAS has been at the highest status of operational alert since July due to increased demand on NHS services, resulting in patients waiting several hours for an ambulance. In response to this, the service is introducing a temporary measure in the New Year.
The change, which comes into effect on 3 January and runs until 31 March, will see ambulance staff take breaks at hospitals or their nearest ambulance station rather than return to base. Workers will receive a £5 payment for each break they take away from their base location.
The decision comes just a week after the Board of Directors heard that harm is being caused to patients because of ambulance delays.
Vicky Court, deputy chief operating officer, says the evidence that making the temporary change will help patients and staff is overwhelming.
Ambulance crews have two 30-minute breaks a shift. Travel time to base can sometimes take up to an hour - leading to crews being unavailable to respond to patients for much longer than 30 minutes, which can result in delays for some patients.
The review, which looked at six stations for emergency crews and five scheduled care crews over a three-day period, found:
The service says the changes will mean members of the public will start to see more ambulance crews in public buildings during their rest breaks and is reminding people that crews should not be disturbed while resting.