Ambulance service cuts 12-hour shifts 'to reduce staff fatigue'

Aubrey Bell

Aubrey Bell

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Witney and West Oxfordshire. Call me on 01865 425483

OXFORDSHIRE’S ambulance staff shifts could be shortened as part of plans to ease pressure on paramedics.

Most of the county’s 144 paramedics currently work 12-hour shifts. But South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) is consulting with staff and trade unions to reduce the number of staff working 12-hour shifts to less than 10 per cent.

The majority of staff will work a combination of eight- and 10-hour shifts. The plans were revealed at an inquest which heard that paramedics at the end of a shift administered the wrong drug to a patient, although it was not found to have contributed to his death.

Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court heard last Wednesday how paramedics gave musician Haydn Boyes-Weston the antiarrhythmic drug amiodarone rather than adrenaline after he was found hanging in his Northmoor home on March 9.

Clinical mentor Edward Miller told the inquest he had been given the wrong syringe by a student paramedic who had picked up the wrong box even though it was a different colour.

Mr Miller admitted he should have checked the syringe, but said it was a “stressful environment” and he was at the end of a 7am-7pm shift.

He said: “I had been on duty for 12 hours. It’s not an excuse and I accept that it’s my responsibility to check the drug, but whether that had any bearing on my decision, I don’t know.”

Consultant pathologist Prof Ian Roberts said Mr Boyes-Weston would have been dead before paramedics arrived.

Speaking during the inquest, the service’s Oxfordshire area manager Aubrey Bell said more training was now given to paramedics in handling cardiac arrests.

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Boyes-Weston’s widow Carole said: “I think the 12-hour shifts are ridiculous – even truck drivers have to restrict their hours, let alone people in control of life or death situations.”

The changes would see 80 per cent of staff working 10-hour shifts, 10 per cent working 12-hour shifts and 10 per cent working eight-hour shifts on a rota.

Staff would still work an average of 37-and-a-half hours each week.

The service said it was not aware of any other ambulance services looking at similar changes to shifts.

Mr Bell said: “The service feels that for a raft of reasons, not least the health and wellbeing of staff, but also in terms of sustainability and making sure we can match demand, that we should change the shift patterns.

“We’re in the middle of a consultation process and negotiations as we speak but we expect our new patterns to be in place before Christmas.”

Oxfordshire operations manager Steve West said: “The current rota consultation is in direct response to changes in demand on the frontline services of SCAS.

“We believe that through extensive consultation with staff, we will be able to create a working week for frontline staff which is fair to all our staff and one that protects their welfare by reducing fatigue and provides more flexible, family friendly working.

“At the same time, the consultation will also be focussed on how rotas can best be devised to continue providing the right care at the right time and in the right place for patients.”

Geoffrey Sharp, 75, of Nobles Lane in Botley, was told by paramedics that ambulances are for “real emergencies” despite fracturing his spine after a fall in March. Yesterday he said: “Ambulance staff do have a difficult job so I think they actually need more staff.”

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry said: “It seems a perfectly reasonable change in shift patterns for perfectly reasonable reasons.”

Thames Valley Police officers work between eight and 12 hours, while Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service full-time firefighters work two 10-hour shifts and two 14-hour shifts each week, followed by four days off.

Ambulances aim to reach patients within its target time of eight minutes for 75 per cent of calls.

In the latest set of ambulance response time figures from April 1 to May 15 this year, ambulances achieved its target 92 per cent of the time in Oxford but in rural West and South Oxfordshire this fell to 52 per cent.

In Cherwell the figure was 84 per cent and in the Vale of White Horse it was 70 per cent.

The service is consulting with staff about how often they would work each shift.

Oxford Mail:

HAYDN BOYES-WESTON

DRUMMER Haydn Boyes-Weston, 54, above, played as a session drummer and permanent member in bands from Sheffield, where he was born, including Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, 2.3 and Heaven 17.

Speaking after his inquest, his wife Carole said: “He was a brilliant musician and a great husband. He was very caring, good fun and larger than life.”

Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court heard that he had not suffered from mental health issues, although Mrs Boyes-Weston said in a statement that she believed he suffered from undiagnosed depression due to financial troubles.

Coroner Darren Salter recorded a verdict of suicide.

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Comments (3)

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9:34am Thu 31 Jul 14

BML says...

The 12 hour shifts often drift into 14 hour shifts with staff working in such under staffed conditions they are unable to even take a meal break. One Paramedic actually collapsed with fatigue when taking a casualty to the JR falling over and breaking their arm. As for consulting thats a joke because the Trust will do what it always does, impose what changes it sees fit which is why moral is rock bottom.
The 12 hour shifts often drift into 14 hour shifts with staff working in such under staffed conditions they are unable to even take a meal break. One Paramedic actually collapsed with fatigue when taking a casualty to the JR falling over and breaking their arm. As for consulting thats a joke because the Trust will do what it always does, impose what changes it sees fit which is why moral is rock bottom. BML
  • Score: 32

10:46am Thu 31 Jul 14

oafie says...

There must be many of us who remember the 'stopping of long days' in nursing and other areas, and many moaning the impact of the E.U Law upon the UK. Yet long days ten and twelve hour shifts have been increasingly the norm for some years now, some health care care jobs do not even have shorter shifts insisting all work long days- this is down to money-it is cheaper. It really is time the government took responsibility for many employees having to work in this way- they have been too keen to erode workers rights and jumping into the self employed pool is not always the answer.
There must be many of us who remember the 'stopping of long days' in nursing and other areas, and many moaning the impact of the E.U Law upon the UK. Yet long days ten and twelve hour shifts have been increasingly the norm for some years now, some health care care jobs do not even have shorter shifts insisting all work long days- this is down to money-it is cheaper. It really is time the government took responsibility for many employees having to work in this way- they have been too keen to erode workers rights and jumping into the self employed pool is not always the answer. oafie
  • Score: 15

11:10am Thu 31 Jul 14

bicesterlady says...

I have the utmost respect for paramedics- they do an amazing job under difficult circumstances. It must be physically and mentally draining to drive from job to job, on blue lights then often have to undertake life saving procedures in tough circumstances. Not many people could keep that up for 12 hours plus, sometimes without a proper break.

Personally speaking, if I ever do need a paramedic (it's something I try to avoid) I'd like one that's not zonked please!! It's in no ones interest to work these amazing people into the ground
I have the utmost respect for paramedics- they do an amazing job under difficult circumstances. It must be physically and mentally draining to drive from job to job, on blue lights then often have to undertake life saving procedures in tough circumstances. Not many people could keep that up for 12 hours plus, sometimes without a proper break. Personally speaking, if I ever do need a paramedic (it's something I try to avoid) I'd like one that's not zonked please!! It's in no ones interest to work these amazing people into the ground bicesterlady
  • Score: 31

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