Paramedics meal deal has left a bad taste

AMBULANCE crews in the Borders are unhappy with their interim meal break deal, claiming they face working 12 hours without a rest.

A temporary three-month agreement was reached earlier this month between union officials and Scottish Government health secretary Nicola Sturgeon so that paramedics and technicians would receive £100 to respond to a call while on a break.

But ambulance staff are furious that they were not consulted, with the overwhelming majority of around 90 Scottish Ambulance Service workers affected in the region previously rejecting a revised deal.

One Borders-based paramedic said: “The majority of staff in the Borders and elsewhere in Scotland are still not at all happy with the interim agreement.

“This was pushed on us by the government and potentially we could now work a whole shift without getting a break.

“Initially, the majority of union members voted out a £50 call-out deal, but this time we did not even get to vote, which I feel we should have got.”

Ambulance staff refute suggestions that they are unwilling to work during their rest breaks, arguing they do – but only if properly paid.

The paramedic added: “We are now working 40 hours, but being paid for 37-and-a-half – I believe we are the only NHS service that works more than 37-and-a-half.

“The media describe it as a ‘tea break’ as if we are sitting round drinking cups of tea. It is two-and-a-half hours unpaid time where we now have to sit in the station and can’t go home.

“It was the ambulance service and Scottish Government who put us in this position. Potentially, a crew could now work 12 hours without a break. While that would be very rare in the Borders, it is still an unacceptable position.”

While talks are continuing to find a permanent solution, members of the Unison, Unite and GMB unions could be asked to vote in December whether to retain the temporary agreement to the long-running dispute.

“If members were to vote no, which is very possible, then I do not know what the solution is,” added the paramedic, who did not wish to be named.

However, on the announcement of the rest-break deal this month, Ms Sturgeon said: “I believe these interim arrangements are in the interests of both patients and staff.

“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the ambulance service to find a longer-term sustainable solution to this issue. I have therefore tasked my officials to work closely with management and unions over the next few months to ensure that, at the end of this interim period, we have a permanent solution to put in place.

“I – and the ambulance service – have a responsibility to ensure that patient safety is protected.”

Ms Sturgeon said a weekly report on the arrangements would be handed to her, including the number of meal breaks which were disturbed across the country by emergency calls.