Tuesday 1 November 2011

The Witching Hour

"25 year female, feels a sense of injustice"

Working long shifts is part and parcel of life in the ambulance service. Generally 12 hour shifts are the norm and late finishes are a daily occurrence. The late finishes are accepted as 'thats just how it is' and generally we'd rather finish half an hour late by choice than leave ourselves open to being abused by the system. Sometimes, a late job is inevitable and if its for someone in need we don't care. However, one of the biggest gripes on working hours in the ambulance service occurs over Halloween weekend every year. The clocks go back an hour. This one hour causes more bone of contentions between front line staff, control, and management than any other late finish during the year partly because its compulsory overtime and also that with foresight it could be avoided.
A 13 hour shift isn't rare, in fact it occurs at least once in a run shifts through incidental overtime. However, being forced to do a 13 hour shift + incidental overtime is not accepted by staff. Especially, without a break and when your are due in again 10 hours later to do it all again. This year I was on a 19:00 - 07:00 shift. As I had no break I was due to finish at 06:30. I was due back in in the evening at 18:00. With the ENFORCED overtime this made it a twelve and half hour shift. At 06:14 (1 minute before I was Red 1 only) we were dispatched 8 miles away to a 'fall'. This fall turned out to be a nightmare job, legal gray areas surrounding capacity and consent meant we didn't finish at hospital until 08:40 so didn't sign off until 09:00. That, is 15 hours after we started without a break, due back in in 9 hours -travelling time. Legal? In a word, No.
Below is The Working Time Regulations 1988 No.1833 Part II as set out in European Law.
Maximum weekly working time
4.—(1) Subject to regulation 5, a worker’s working time, including overtime, in any reference period which is applicable in his case shall not exceed an average of 48 hours for each seven days.

Daily rest
10.—(1) An adult worker is entitled to a rest period of not less than eleven consecutive hours in each 24-hour period during which he works for his employer.

Rest breaks
12.—(1) Where an adult worker’s daily working time is more than                six hours, he is entitled to a rest break.

(2) The details of the rest break to which an adult worker is entitled under paragraph (1), including its duration and the terms on which it is granted, shall be in accordance with any provisions for the purposes of this regulation which are contained in a collective agreement or a workforce agreement

(3)Subject to the provisions of any applicable collective agreement or workforce agreement, the rest break provided for in paragraph (1) is an uninterrupted period of not less than 20 minutes, and the worker is entitled to spend it away from his workstation if he has one.
This was a 62 hour week, during the 15 hour shift I received no rest break and only had a 9 hour gap between shift times. In reality that's 7 hours at home in which to wash, sleep and eat. We can have the 11 hour gap as required by law but if so we loose out on an of the enforced overtime that we have earned. At no point do management or control show any remorse for what the front line staff are having to do. Managers (most not all) spend their days hidden in offices, chasing up targets. EOC staff get a 15 minute break for every hour they are sat at a computer and don’t finish late. They kindly sent all crews the following message at midnight:
‘Just a reminder that all crews are required to work the extra hour as per policy’
Gee, thanks! As kind and considerate as we have come to expect. (This is aimed at the OCM's not the dispatchers). Then of course the totally avoidable late job to add to the fatigue and frustration.
For too long now ambulance staff have been abused by the small print and technicalities in the law that the management policy writers use to get as many working hours out of us as possible. They are in constant breach of the law and nothing is done about it. The working conditions are nothing short of archaic and its of no surprise that staff are leaving at an alarming rate. 3 years ago a large amount of new staff were taken on and the fact over 25% have already left speaks volumes about the way we are treated.
The question which should be asked is, if you, your friend or you family were seriously ill and needed an ambulance would you want one, who had been working for 14 hours or more without a break? No is the answer. It isn’t good for patient care and it isn't good for our health. What will be done about it? Nothing. I have no doubt in 12 months time i’ll be whining again but that's my right. Rant over.


  1. This is of some debate in our service too, mainly due to the fact we don't get paid for working the extra hour! However, we are entitled to the 11 hour break between shifts AND overtime paid for the overrun.

  2. We get paid for the extra hour but only if we come in at the correct time the next shift. If we wait the 11 hours we forgo the money! According to a few articles I read this years may be the last of British summertime. Moving ti European time by next year possibly.

  3. While I totally agree this is a bad situation, be careful when quoting the ETD for 2 reasons:

    1) I believe there are exemptions for emergency services (yes I know technically we are an essential service but still I believe it covers us)

    2) The more we moan about the lack of breaks, the quick turn arounds, the late jobs, the easier it will be for management to do away with 12h shifts all together. Permanent 8h for all. This would mean a drop in unsocial hours pay, less days off and all sorts of crazy shift times.

    I really hate to say it (cos working times are a bug bear of mine too) but sometimes it is a case of better the devil you know! =(


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