NURSES have voiced their dismay over controversial rota changes that they say could damage patient care standards and force staff to work an extra unpaid shift each month.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), which has been in special measures since 2014, this week confirmed it will introduce an additional half-hour break per shift in a bid to save more than £500,000. The health board said the change will standardise shift and break patterns which “potentially did not protect the health and safety of our staff and patients to the degree we would like”.

The plan involves asking staff to hand in their ‘bleeper’ to a colleague to enable an uninterrupted break, but “where an emergency arises” they must return to work and take the remainder of the break before their shift ends.

It has been met with anger from staff and members of the public having been proposed and consulted since August – including two separate petitions with more than 3,000 signatures – amid concern that staff will be paid half-an-hour less a day while wards are too understaffed to take the additional break time.

Nurses’ union Unite Cymru said BCUHB “have absolutely no intention of engaging in any meaningful consultation process”.

In response to its consultation the health board noted that “many staff have made their views known that they believe the implementation of these proposals lack compassion, will be detrimental to their work life balance, welfare and that the proposal is not in line with BCUHB values”.

BCUHB confirmed its decision on Facebook and was met with hundreds of angry comments from nurses and patients stating that health board bosses are out of touch with hospital staff.

Vanessa Butcher said the decision is “insulting” as she has “never taken an hour break away from the ward” due to understaffing.

“I think a lot of nurses will feel unable to take their full unpaid break, knowing wards are already understaffed and patient care will suffer further,” she said.

Maternity nurse Hannah Roberts said: “We on the maternity unit often work 12.5 hour shifts not able to get a proper break, having to grab a drink or something quick to eat whilst sitting on the kitchen bin watching monitors, answering emergency bells and timing when it’s safe to go to the toilet.”

She added: “These new plans mean that we will be working an extra 30 minutes … so 60 minutes a day unpaid.”

Shelly Griffiths, who carries a cardiac arrest bleep for adults and children, said: “Do I still take my ‘break’ if this goes off? Incidentally I can’t remember the last ‘break’ I had that wasn’t interrupted by a bleep.”

Emergency department worker Dylan Jones extended an invite to health bosses “to see first-hand how difficult it will be to take these extra unpaid breaks without it impacting patient care”.

“I bet there won’t be many takers,” he added.

Another nurse, Laura Croft, commented that the decision is “absolutely disgusting”, adding: “I would like to see one of the higher management spend a day on the fore front. This will have poor outcomes”.

Former nurse Grace Dacre said: “Thank god I left the NHS when I did. So many things will be effected including patient flow which is already bad enough and staff morale is already at an all time low.”

Student nurse Louise Berry said she is due to qualify next year but “seeing this genuinely upsets me and makes me wonder if it’s worth carrying on with my degree”.

She added that BCUHB “seriously need to recognise this and NOT [sic] penalise staff otherwise consequences will be happening”.

A BCUHB spokesperson said: “The changes to nursing rotas are intended to protect the health and safety of nursing staff and to ensure that they are deployed in the most effective way.

“Making sure we have sufficient numbers of appropriately qualified staff to match the demands of our services will help to further improve safety and consistency of care.”

The rota changes are set to be introduced in January 2020.