Ambulance 'break' offer rejected in GMB vote

Ambulance at an accident and emergency
Image caption Arrangements over meal breaks for ambulance staff were called into question following two deaths

Ambulance crews in the GMB union have rejected an offer of extra payment if they are called out while on a break.

Staff are currently entitled to undisturbed rest breaks but the policy has been questioned after the deaths of two people in separate incidents.

The Scottish Ambulance Service offered a one-off payment of £250 and compensatory overtime if crews worked through a rest period.

But 92% of GMB members who voted in a ballot rejected the proposal.

The offer also included an assurance that staff breaks would only be interrupted in the event of a "Category A", or serious, 999 call and, when they did take place, crews would be financially compensated and their break re-organised for later in the shift.

It was previously rejected by Unite and Unison, and it is understood the three unions will meet ambulance service chiefs later in the week.

The ambulance service said it was committed to solving the issue.

GMB Scotland, whose shop stewards had recommended its members reject the proposals, said staff were unpaid and off-duty during breaks, and were not insured to respond to emergencies.

The union argued staff were being blamed for a policy decision they did not seek and did not agree with, and added that ambulance crews were not classed as an emergency service in the same way as the police and fire and rescue service.

The GMB's Mick Conroy said: "The Scottish Ambulance Service has the problem - not our members and not the members of Unite and Unison.

"Our members are prepared to provide a service - what we need is the service to be run properly so they do get their breaks and the people of Scotland get the service which they can rely on."

Concern over the current arrangement was raised following the case of Mandy Mathieson, who died from a heart attack in the remote Moray village of Tomintoul in October 2010.

An ambulance technician stationed just 800m away refused to attend because he was on a meal break.

Instead, a crew based 21 minutes away in Grantown-on-Spey responded to the call.

A few months later, a three-year-old boy died near Crieff in Perthshire while the local ambulance crew was on a rest break. The crew was not told there was an emergency nearby.

Ms Mathieson's brother, Charles, told BBC Scotland he was not surprised the offer was rejected.

He added: "It wasn't any better than is actually on the table at the moment.

"I think it's now back in the management's court and the government's court."

A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: "A proposal was made to staff that preserves the rest break during a shift, while at the same time allowing for crews to be interrupted in a life-threatening emergency.

"We are committed to finding a solution to this issue and will continue discussions with staff and the Scottish government to achieve this."

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Murdo Fraser branded the ballot result "completely unacceptable".

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