Tea Times

UK medics forgo bonus for tea

I’m surprised no one that I know has blogged on this yet.

Basically, ambulances crews in the UK were offered 45 minutes of overtime and a 250 pound cash bonus if they were disturbed during their 30 minute unpaid tea break.

They decided to keep the tea break as is, which means they are placed out of service and are unavailable during that time.

British culture (and by default, most other place in the Commonwealth or former colonies) defines afternoon tea as sort of a “lunch break” in the late afternoon, usually around 3 pm to 5 pm but no later than 7, and included all sorts of small pastries and finger food type sandwiches. It originated at a time in English culture when the only meals were breakfast (which consisted of bread, beef, and ale) and dinner, which was originally served around noon, shifted to a massive end of day meal. [source]

I guess you could say, from a certain perspective, that taking away a tea break at mid-day or mid-shift would like denying them a lunch break. All I can say is I want a 30 minute break too. If the breaks are supervised they could go quite well. Crews would be happy they could get a breather, especially if they have been working hard, and so long as the system is still able to answer emergency calls then there shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Well, this all stems from a problem that the system had in Scotland, where an ambulance technician refused to interrupt his break to make a run. Not that I blame HIM exactly, but did they know he was on a break BEFORE they attempted to dispatch him? This could have cut down on confusion in the call center if they had known that he was out of service for his break. That way, they could have moved another ambulance to at least cover the area or cut down on response ti. There has to be some sort of two way communication.

EMS culture in the US is that you run and run and run until it’s your time to go home. Or, if you’re like me (who works in a busy system) and that you invent break times if you’re working on a busy day, you just keep a closer ear to the radio in case the dispatcher catches you on the AVL screen or a run comes up close to where you stopped for lunch/dinner/what-have-you.

It would make sense that they keep the tea break, 30 minutes of peace. But someone needs to be responsible for the crew’s area while they are breaking. It took someone to die for someone to look at this, and it’s not really anyone’s fault except the system. Proper management would have prevented a tragedy, and I hope they can reformat their policy to make it that.

  • Anonomyous

    Once upon a time I worked for a private ambulance company here in the US for several years.  We were lucky most days to get a break at all.  We usually would grab food from a drive thru place or a deli just after signing off (finishing a run) and would hope we had enough time before we got the next call to eat.  Many a time I would be driving to a transfer a few towns over and would be rushing to eat while driving (which was really safe!)  If we did get assigned a break it was usually interrupted by an emergency call because they wouldn’t have enough ambulances to cover us so we would have to get that call too.  It got even more fun when they began to mandate us to stay past our shift end time (we worked 13 hour shifts at that point…I worked 10am-11pm) and many nites I was having dinner when I got home at 1 or 2 in the morning.

  • Too Old To Work

    Does the fire service in the UK get the same 30 minute break? How about the police service? I ask because if they don’t and EMS does, then it puts EMS in a different grouping. That grouping would be non emergency – non essential staff, at least in my view.

    Which would give the UK fire service, if they were so inclined, a foot hold to use to take over EMS. “We don’t put off YOUR emergency for OUR tea break.”

    • I see it more as they have a heavy workload, so they would need that break
      time just to eat.

      Its a difference in UK and American EMS culture, and wider cultural
      differences as well. They are used to getting that break during the day, so
      naturally they want it to continue. We have no such tradition, and have even
      streamlined our meals to fit an “on the go” mentality.

      —–Original message—–

  • Too Old To Work

    Does the fire service in the UK get the same 30 minute break? How about the police service? I ask because if they don’t and EMS does, then it puts EMS in a different grouping. That grouping would be non emergency – non essential staff, at least in my view.

    Which would give the UK fire service, if they were so inclined, a foot hold to use to take over EMS. “We don’t put off YOUR emergency for OUR tea break.”

    • I see it more as they have a heavy workload, so they would need that break
      time just to eat.

      Its a difference in UK and American EMS culture, and wider cultural
      differences as well. They are used to getting that break during the day, so
      naturally they want it to continue. We have no such tradition, and have even
      streamlined our meals to fit an “on the go” mentality.

      —–Original message—–