South Western Ambulance workers threaten strikes over 'lack of breaks'

Some staff at South Western Ambulance staff are threatening strike action over a change in meal break policies.

Members of the GMB union are being balloted on industrial action over the dispute. However the trust says the changes came about following feedback from crews and have been agreed with other unions.

The GMB union claims ambulance crews are forced to take their break wherever the nearest, often overcrowded, depot is and have been advised to carry their food in their cabs.

The union has health and safety concerns over the new policy, including the risk of food poisoning due to a lack of chilled storage and loose food and drink containers posing a risk when travelling at speed responding to an emergency.

David McMullen, GMB Regional Organiser, said: "Workers face late or non-existent breaks; crews are not allowed to stop until they hand over their patients, often 7 hours or more into their shifts or sometimes even an entire working day.

"There is a real concern from GMB members that this will lead to physical and mental exhaustion putting patients at risk.

“If trust management doesn’t start engaging with us, I can only see this heading towards a strike which would see ambulance workers on the picket line.”

A spokesperson for South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: “The rest breaks and end of shift arrangements policy was developed in response to overwhelming feedback from colleagues who told us finishing their shift on time was their priority. It was approved and came into effect following agreement with Unison, our recognised union.

“More of our frontline colleagues are finishing on time and more people are getting their breaks as a result. This is about ensuring our people are not put at undue risk through working excessive hours or without appropriate rest breaks, and to improve patient safety.

“We have more than 90 ambulance stations across the South West and the agreement is that colleagues will take their breaks at the nearest station that has space.

“We continue to work on refining and implementing the policy fully and are committed to responding fully to any colleagues who raises a concern. All requests for supportive measures and reasonable adjustments are considered on a case-by-case basis.”

In a statement Unison said: “At this early stage of implementation, the rest break and end of shift arrangements policy is delivering what was intended in the vast majority of areas across the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which is very encouraging.

“Unison continues to work with the Trust on learning and refining the implementation of the policy across the organisation.”