FEARS have been raised for the "devastating impact" on morale of North Wales embattled nurses following controversial changes to their working hours.

Earlier this week Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) revealed plans which will affect how the breaks are implemented and paid for about 17,000 members of staff in a bid to save £500,000.

While the health board, which has been remained in special measures for four years, claims the new rota will standardise the shift patterns, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wales has slammed the plan's "inflexibility" and the long terms effects on nursing numbers.

A spokesperson for the RCN Wales said: "RCN Wales believes the decision made by BCUHB to implement changes to nursing staff rotas will have a devastating impact on the morale of nurses and do little to address the very real problems faced by the Health Board of staff shortages and service pressures.

"Nurse morale is already at an all-time low with the recruitment and retention of staff being extremely difficult.

"The Health Board reports 307 whole time equivalent nursing vacancies across the Acute Hospitals alone, this decision will only add yet more pressure to current staff and deter nurses from choosing the health board as a place to work.

"Currently, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board employs 1,058 nurses over the age of 55, this decision will do nothing to retain them. Furthermore the health board has a targeted retention plan which aims to raise engagement scores, yet RCN Wales members report less engagement with this process and with the health board."

he 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.

Helen Whyley, Director RCN Wales said:“We are extremely disappointed with the Health Board’s decision, they have ignored nurses’ concerns regarding this proposal and are displaying a complete lack of consideration for our members in BCUHB.

"The money that the health board says it will save by implementing this change in staffing, increases the pressure on nurses and will be negated by the amount of money they will have to spend on agency staff - which currently stands at £4.1 million in the year to July 2019.

"Nurses are already working extra, unpaid hours in an attempt to give the highest possible care to their patients, they should be respected and valued, not ignored and penalised. Where our members in the health board already work the 12.5 hour shift pattern they struggle to get breaks at all, let alone an hour as in the proposals and, we believe, that unless they recruit and retain more nurses the health board will continue to be unable to comply with Working Time Regulations breaks.

The Health Board believe that the new rota system will enhance its ability to meet the requirements of the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) 2016 something that we and our member do not believe to be the case. We will be talking to our members further on how they wish to progress with their concerns about these changes.”