Betsi Cadwaladr health board should listen to concerns over controversial nursing shift changes

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Regrets Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board’s proposals to extend nursing shifts without pay for more than 4,000 nurses and health care support workers.
  • Fears the loss of goodwill among staff who already regularly work through their breaks or are on call on their wards or units.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to protect frontline workers’ pay and conditions within the NHS by ensuring that this regressive proposal is scrapped.

Taking advantage of nurses’ goodwill

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) told the chamber that while the proposals to change nursing shifts in north Wales were stated to be about standardising rotas, it’s ultimately about saving money – an estimated £25,000-a-month from a £42million budget deficit.

“Put in a nutshell, it’s extending nurses’ shifts by an extra half-hour without pay. It would mean a nurse currently working a 12.5-hour shift, which includes a half-hour unpaid break, is expected to work the same shift but only get paid for 11.5 hours.

“I think it’s important that we recognise that many nurses currently take their breaks on their wards or units, and are effectively on call in an emergency.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

He said the management at the health board were taking advantage of nurses’ goodwill and the proposal was being put forward as the health board lists 500 nursing vacancies.

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said that tinkering in this manner leaves staff feeling “unloved, unworthy and undervalued”. Human beings naturally react differently under stress, so what do you think will happen to nurses when they’re put on this system? Nonetheless, the Tories wanted a stronger-worded motion and would vote to amend it.

Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) told AMs she’s received a lot of correspondence on the issue. There was nothing wrong, in principle, with standardising shift patterns but it shouldn’t be done to the detriment of already overworked staff.

Health boards need to listen

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said from the outset that staff rotas are a matter for individual health boards, though they have to comply with the Nurse Staffing Levels Act. It was key that the health board listened to people taking part in the consultation, but that process wasn’t yet over.

“I understand that….the consultation period has been extended to ensure adequate time for all staff potentially affected to consider information and take part in the consultation. I also understand that trade union representatives have raised concerns about the potential impact, including work-life balance, potentially increased childcare costs, and travel, laundry and food costs. I expect the health board management to consider….all feedback before any decision is made. So, the motion does not reflect the reality that local consultation processes have not yet been completed – that is ongoing and no decision has yet been taken.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

NHS staff were valued and work was ongoing to reduce sickness rates amongst staff in every health board. There was naturally going to be disagreement between employers, staff and unions on major changes, but there has to be wriggle room for revising any proposals should the need arise.

Vote

A government-backed, softer-worded, motion calling for health boards to listen and noting appreciation for all NHS staff was passed by 33-11 with 3 abstentions.

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