A UNION has staged a protest amid a backlash over a new rota system being introduced for nurses in North Wales.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) is behind the changes, which it says are designed to standardise shift patterns, break times and handover periods.

However, opponents claim it will result in staff working an extra unpaid shift each month

Members of Unite Wales gathered outside a meeting of senior officials on Thursday morning amid concerns workers will be forced to take an extra half-hour unpaid break per shift.

They say it will mean nurses and healthcare support workers who currently work 12 and a half hours will now be unpaid for an hour of their time.

The demonstration outside Conwy Business Centre was attended by around a dozen staff and supporters in a bid to lobby the board to abandon the proposals, which are currently out to consultation.

Gareth Parry, Unite’s BCUHB branch chair, described the plans as ‘ill-judged’ and said some workers currently forgo their breaks in order to care for patients.

He said: “Introducing an extra unpaid 30 minute break, that we will struggle to take over each shift risks exploiting our professional dedication to our chosen vocation and our patients.

“To add insult to injury nursing staff, healthcare support workers and operating department practitioners will also be required to work back these untaken breaks through additional or longer shifts to maintain our current monthly pay.

“This proposal will do nothing to improve morale, retention of staff or patient care.

“The Unite Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board branch is calling on the board to intervene and withdraw this proposal.

“If BCUHB is serious about our welfare, it should be ensuring that we are able to take our current breaks in full before implementing an ill judged proposal that will make BCUHB more reliant on its dedicated staff working additional hours a week for no extra pay.”

A petition launched by the union calling on the board not to implement the proposed changes has already attracted around 2,400 online signatures.

Union officials said an additional 1,000 people had also signed a physical copy of the petition, which has been made available at hospital sites.

It was recently revealed that similar plans were being explored at Leighton Hospital in Crewe.

In response to the concerns raised, a senior figure from Betsi Cadwaladr said the current rota system did not protect the safety of staff and patients.

They added the new shifts were designed to remove anomalies around break arrangements and would reduce the board’s reliance on agency workers.

Deborah Carter, acting executive director of nursing and midwifery, said: “We have spent time understanding the current state of our nursing rosters, including the handover periods, break allocation and shift lengths.

“Unwarranted variance was identified whereby some rosters were not consistent with best practice and potentially did not protect the health and safety of our staff and patients to the degree we would like; in particular variation was found in shift patterns and in breaks allocated to staff.

“The proposal currently being consulted on 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.”

She said the health board would work with staff and trade unions to address any concerns before the final proposals are implemented.