Is safety or money at the heart of ambulance meal break controversy?

Binge-drinkers are causing problems for the NHS.
Binge-drinkers are causing problems for the NHS.

The more we’re told something’s not about the money, the more we can’t help but think it’s all about the money.

Both paramedics and ambulance chiefs tell us the proposed changes to the staff meal break policy will affect patient safety.

Paramedics, we’re told, say forcing them to take meal breaks will put lives at risk; ambulance chiefs say paramedics who fail to take meal breaks can suffer fatigue and compromise patient safety.

While both parties insist the crux of the argument is the safety of patients, the issue is costing the NHS hundreds of thousands a year.

The North East Ambulance Service says the costs associated have been estimated at over £700,000 each year along with a loss of productivity and reduced capacity. That is a significant amount of money, but both parties insist staff and patient welfare is the main concern.

Paramedics fear enforced meal breaks mean they will be grounded when they could be attending emergencies. The argument holds water. The service is stretched and struggles to meet emergency response times even without mandatory breaks. Can they improve the service if they are grounded more often?

But then ambulance bosses have a point when they say paramedics who do not take breaks will be tired, increasing the risk of mistakes and putting patients’ safety at risk.

Can paramedics working 12-hour shifts without a break for food or drink really maintain the highest of standards?

It’s an issue which is dividing staff, management, and our readers, as our online poll shows.

Patient safety should be paramount in all discussions and we hope a satisfactory answer can be found in this instance ... but money is an issue.

This meal break controversy is all about the money. Our ambulance service, on this evidence, simply doesn’t have enough of it.