AMBULANCE crews across the North East are losing 60 hours a day travelling back to base for meal breaks – a review has found.

The North East Ambulance Service has been on its highest state of operational alert since July due to increased demand on its services which, along with similar pressure on the region’s hospitals, has left some patients waiting several hours for an ambulance.

In response, bosses are making a temporary change to meal break arrangements for ambulance service workers which could free up enough time to attend dozens more emergency incidents a day.

Currently, ambulance crews working a ten-to-12 hour shift are stood down so they can go to their base station for two 30-minute breaks.

But with travelling time taking up to an hour, crews can be unavailable to respond to patients for much longer than 30 minutes.

A recent review over a three-day period found emergency crews off the road for nearly 60 hours – equivalent to being able to respond to 37 additional incidents a day.

The review also looked at scheduled care crews who mainly transport patients to and from pre-planned appointments but regularly support emergency colleagues.

The review found they were unavailable for just over 7.5 hours each day due to the current meal break arrangements.

From Monday, January 3, until March 31, NEAS staff will be asked to stand down for a break at hospital or their nearest ambulance station rather than return to base.

In return, they will receive £5 for each break they take away from their base location.

The decision comes just a week after the Board of Directors heard that harm is being caused to patients because of ambulance delays.

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) also recently published a report on the harm caused to patients who wait to be transferred to hospital care.

Vicky Court, deputy chief operating officer, said: “We are making these temporary changes to reduce the risk of patients being harmed by ambulance delays.

"The safety of patients and our staff is our top priority and the evidence is overwhelming that making this temporary change will allow us to see more patients quicker and reduce the potential harm that occurs when there are long waits for an ambulance.

“This is not a permanent change. It will only last over winter up to the end of March while we continue to experience the enormous pressures upon our service.

“In a bid to try and avoid these delays, crews are often sent late for their breaks, impacting on their health and wellbeing, so we think this temporary measure will also improve the wellbeing of some of our staff who have not been able to take a proper break for several hours because the distances they have to travel back to their base location.”

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