Revealed: Paramedics’ £2million compensation payouts for lost breaks
09:50 01 March 2016
The region’s ambulance service has paid nearly £2 million compensation to frontline paramedics for lost meal breaks in just four years, it can be revealed.
East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) staff can claim up to £25 per day if they miss a break, such as emergency workers attending 999 incidents during their lunch.
A total of £1,861,264 has been paid out to EEAST emergency workers from 2012/13 to the current financial year. The highest was £559,388 in 2014/15 – or £10,750 a week.
Last night, ambulance chiefs said the right balance has to be struck between staff welfare and maintaining “our response to patients who need us urgently”.
The figures were unveiled through Freedom of Information laws.
Tim Roberts, regional organiser for Unison, said the measures improve conditions for staff and care for patients.
But Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The amount will raise eyebrows and taxpayers will question the merits of a contract which appears to allow emergency workers to claim compensation for having to respond to emergencies.
“At a time when every department has to find necessary savings these payments will seem particularly painful.”
It was revealed last year how the EEAST was considering plans to limit the number of 999 calls paramedics attend in the last hour of their shift to reduce the stress caused by working two or three hours extra.
Mr Roberts said: “All staff have the right to take a meal break, but to maintain an emergency service and ensure that patient care is not interrupted, there are occasions when it is not possible for them to take the break and in these situations we support the right of staff to receive a level of compensation.
“We also support the right as otherwise they might be working eight, nine or 10 hours in a row in a highly stressful situation, which is not good for patient care and is not good for staff welfare either.”
An EEAST spokesman said: “Ambulance services nationally face similar problems and everyone acknowledges that there’s no one solution or ‘magic bullet’ which will solve the problem.
“The issues (over late or missed breaks) are compounded by the increasing rise in 999 demand, as reported in the EADT last week, the higher acuity of our patients, student paramedic abstraction for training and hospital handover delays.
“It’s about striking the balance between staff welfare and wellbeing, and maintaining our response to those patients who need us urgently.
“Measures we have already taken include a late finishes trial, surveying staff for their views, a workshop with staff-side colleagues, putting more clinical staff in our control rooms to better manage demand including testing more in depth clinical triage for non-emergency patients, placing a GP in our control room to help treat more patients in the community, trying out different shift patterns and recruiting hundreds of new frontline staff.”
In contrast, South Central Ambulance Service Trust guidelines state paramedics who give permission at the start of their shifts to be “disturbed” during their break will receive £10 and a break later in the day.
East of England Ambulance Service Trust Meal Break Arrangements
4.3 Unpaid Element (opt in to be interrupted)
Staff and managers can choose to have their unpaid element of the break interrupted by emergency calls. Staff will be required to respond to category A, B and C calls, with the exception of those category C calls that are classed as “urgent” journeys. Those who choose to be available to respond to emergency calls during the unpaid uninterruptible element of the break should preferably notify the Health Emergency Operations Centre at the start of their shift.
4.4 Paid Interruptible Element
During the paid interruptible element of the break, staff and managers will be expected to respond to all 999 and urgent calls.
Allowances: The maximum amount claimable in any one shift is £25.
6.1 Off-Base Meal Break Allowance
If the break is taken outside of the agreed local area, staff can claim £5.
6.2 Interrupted Meal Break Allowance
Staff who choose to remain available during the unpaid uninterruptible element of their break and who are then interrupted will be eligible to claim the Interrupted Break Allowance of £20. In such cases, there will be no reimbursement of break time, or entitlement to time off in lieu.
6.3 Late Meal Break Allowance
If an unpaid break is not allocated within the specified time period (around “mid-shift”), staff can claim £20.
6.4 Missed Meal Break Allowance
If an unpaid break cannot be completed during the shift, staff can claim £20.