Ambulance staff warn restrictions on annual leave are the ‘final straw’

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photograph Simon Parker

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

Ambulance staff are facing new restrictions on annual leave which many fear will prevent them taking the downtime needed to avoid burnout and provide safe patient care.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) introduced the new measures, which reduce by up to 50% the number of staff who can take leave at the same time during the busy winter period.

A post about the policy on the trust’s intranet was taken offline after receiving a barrage of critical staff comments.

One EEAST employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the comments showed “what is really happening”.

“People are already losing annual leave as they are continually refused when applying,” they added.

“If they cannot use their leave, they lose it and there is no remuneration.

“This move has been the final straw and the trust are going to prevent people from taking much deserved downtime.”

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EEAST said the change in policy was needed to reflect the increasing winter pressures on health services and insisted that staff would be able to take their annual leave within the new limits.

The trust also highlighted its investment to recruit 330 frontline staff and 160 new vehicles, which will it said would help staff in the long term.

However, the union UNISON has raised concerns about the restriction, which it is challenging.

A UNISON spokesman said members were concerned they would be unable to take their leave and it could lead to “burnout”.

In a statement to members, UNISON said it had not accepted the change to current policy and the decision to move ahead “feels like policy imposition”.

“UNISON do not accept that the Trust has justified that these changes are proportionate,” the statement added. “NHS staff have a contractual right to take all their leave – not just their statutory leave. UNISON believes this imposed policy change is a contractual change which is detrimental to our members.

The union said it had raised concerns with EEAST and it would support members to take further action if the issue is not resolved to the benefit of staff.

The changes would bring a 25% reduction in the daily limit from November 12-December 9 and from January 7-March 31 and a 50% reduction from December 10- January 6.

Ambulance service response

The ambulance service said the NHS faced increasing winter pressures and it needed to update its leave policy to reflect that.

“We heard this year that we have had a significant increase in investment to be able to recruit an additional 330 frontline staff and increase our fleet by 160 in the next two years,” EEAST added. “This will, in the long term, reduce the impact on our staff.”

EEAST said annual leave restrictions had always been in place, with the additional restrictions being made to cover winter pressures.

“We have kept these as low as possible and know that all staff can still take their annual leave within these limits,” the trust added. “Our overall annual leave entitlement is the same.”

Responding to concerns about the intranet article, EEAST said it had not been well articulated and was taken down to make its position clearer. “We are sorry that we have caused upset,” the trust added.

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