More than 1,500 people have signed an online petition against proposals by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) to change nurses’ shifts, which Plaid Cymru claim would extend nurses’ shifts by an extra half hour without pay.

According to BCUHB, the change is needed to standardise shift patterns, handover and break durations and to ensure safe staffing on every ward, while reducing agency nursing costs.

According to Plaid, the proposal, which is currently out to consultation, would mean a nurse currently working a 12 hrs 30 minute shift (with half an hour unpaid break) would be required to work the same shift but only get paid for 11 hrs 30 minutes. The changes would affect thousands of nurses and health care support workers in secondary care.

Plaid are concerned because they say many nurses take their breaks on their wards or unit and are effectively on call in an emergency. This is purely down to the goodwill of hard-working staff and this “vindictive approach” threatens to undermine nursing morale and goodwill.

They added: “The changes will effectively mean full-time nurses having to work an extra shift a month to make up the unpaid hours.”

Nurses, who have spoken to anonymously to Plaid Cymru, said that, if the plan goes ahead, they will consider

  • reducing their hours
  • quitting completely
  • taking their breaks off their unit or ward
  • taking annual leave rather than work extra shifts

Similar changes have been imposed in English hospitals but this is believed to be the first time it’s been tried in the Welsh NHS.

Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd has written to BCUHB’s chief executive to ask the following:

  • How much has PriceWaterhouseCooper been paid by BCUHB for this consultation?
  • How many nurses and health care support workers are affected by these proposals?
  • How much does the health board expect to save by introducing this?
  • What is the health board’s current monthly bill for agency nursing and by how much does it anticipate reducing it if these changes are implemented?

He added: “BCUHB is in dire straits financially – currently running a £42 million deficit with no prospect of reducing that as demand rises due to an ageing population.

“The health board has been in special measures due to a variety of clinical failures since 2015. It is not in its fifth year of direct Labour government control yet shows no signs of dealing with the workforce challenges that underpin much of its problems.

“Concerned nurses have contacted us because this proposal with backfire badly on the health board. The loss of goodwill among thousands of nurses who are already working under immense pressures will probably make matters worse. It’s no way to treat skilled, experienced and specialist staff and suggests a cost-cutting exercise promoted by accountants rather than people who understand what it’s like to work on a ward or specialist unit.”

“I want BCUHB to reconsider this proposal. It is causing anxiety among staff who don’t need further stress in their working lives. Staff morale is already low, this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“I will also be writing to the health minister Vaughan Gething to see whether his department, which has direct oversight of Betsi Cadwaladr, is supportive of these changes. Or does he agree with Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith, his Labour colleague, who is opposed to similar changes that have been imposed on nurses at Leighton Hospital?

“Is he listening to unions such as Unite and the Royal College of Nursing? I would urge him to step in and abandon this policy before it causes real problems with the workforce.”

Deborah Carter, Acting Executive Director of Nursing and Midwifery, said: “The proposal seeks to standardise shift patterns, handover durations, and break durations, across all our divisions.

“Key to this proposal is ensuring that staff receive adequate breaks especially when they are working in longer shift patterns. This is to support staff wellbeing, enhance patient safety, comply with the Working Time Regulations and to comply with the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act.

“The proposals also provide an opportunity for us to reduce the reliance upon agency staff in the process. This of course has a patient care and staff safety benefit as well as a financial benefit.

“We recognise that changes to working patterns can be concerning to some staff. We are committed to working in partnership with our staff and Trade Union colleagues to address these concerns by undertaking meaningful consultation on proposed changes to ensure any final plans are made in full consideration of all viewpoints.”