Scottish ambulance crews back strike action over lack of rest breaks

The frontline workers warned that their failure to get breaks is putting patients, staff and other road-users at risk.

Ambulance crews in Scotland have overwhelmingly backed strike action to secure rest breaks.

The frontline workers voted on industrial action with 93% backing strikes after warning that their failure to get breaks is putting patients, staff and other road-users at risk.

GMB Scotland said that ambulance crews are entitled to breaks totalling 40 minutes in a 12-hour shift but are often being asked to work through after being called to emergencies.

The union added that the overwhelming support for industrial action was no surprise given the failure to ease the pressure on staff.

Karen Leonard, GMB Scotland organiser in the ambulance service, said: “The failure to ensure crews are properly rested has been an increasing cause of concern for years.

“Crews were once told it was because of Covid, now turnaround times at hospitals are being blamed. Enough is enough.

“The strength of feeling and deepening frustration of staff is reflected in the result of this ballot.

“For many reasons, not least the welfare of crews and the safety of patients, proper breaks must be an essential and secure part of every shift.

“Breaks are not a luxury but a necessity and it is beyond time for managers to understand that and ensure crews are properly rested when asked to drive under blue-lights, diagnose patients and administer drugs.”

A two-month trial was launched in August when dispatchers were told crews on a break should only be disturbed to attend the most serious call-outs or if no other ambulance is available for 25 minutes.

However, Ms Leonard has written to the ambulance service’s new chief executive Michael Dickson warning the trial has failed to secure proper breaks for crews.

Management are expected to discuss the issue with unions this week but GMB Scotland has warned the consultative ballot on industrial action, when almost 70% of members voted, will be followed by a formal vote on strikes if there is no agreement on clear and effective action.

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressure facing our staff as a result of wider NHS demand and delays in handovers at hospitals. We know that, on occasion, ambulance crews like many other NHS staff are not able to take breaks in optimum conditions, which is why we are working in partnership with trade union colleagues to update the current rest break policy and procedures to ensure we enable staff to take breaks in a timely manner. 

“As part of our Demand and Capacity programme, we have recruited an additional 458 staff to increase capacity and ease pressures on our staff. We’ve also adopted guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in relation to fatigue scoring to reduce the risks associated with fatigue.”

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