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 new rota will standardise the shift patterns of its 17,000 staff and "improve safety and consistency of care".

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

Proposed and consulted since August, the plan has been met with widespread anger from staff and members of the public - including two separate petitions by nurses' union Unite Cymru and AM for North Wales Llyr Gruffydd, receiving more than 3,000 signatures each – amid concern that staff will be paid half-an-hour less a day while wards are too understaffed to take the additional break time.

In review of its consultation BCUHB 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”.

Unite Cymru said the decision to go ahead with the plan shows the health board "have absolutely no intention of engaging in any meaningful consultation process".

BCUHB confirmed the rota change on Facebook and was met with hundreds of angry comments from nurses and patients stating that its 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.

“There are currently 100 different shift patterns in operation across the health board and a variance in unpaid breaks from no unpaid break to one hour 15 minutes.

“As well as introducing a consistent system across the health board for the first time, we estimate that we will reduce our reliance on agency nursing staff and deliver £527,000 of savings.”

The rota change is set to be introduced in January 2020.