Thursday, September 25, 2008

Give me some piece

There is a story that the derivation of the Scots word 'Piece' comes from the old rural habit of drying oatmeal gruel, not unlike a slab of dried porridge, and leaving it to go hard in the bottom of a kitchen drawer and then cutting off a bit (piece) to take as part of a packed lunch.

Nowadays, a piece is more generally a sandwich or one's packed meal taken to work (even if it's not a sandwich any more and more likely a microwave lasagne from Tesco). You keep your nosh in piece box.

In the Polis, our refreshment break is known as "piece time." It is an unintended, but amusing play on words. However, as I will elucidate, increasingly rarely do I really get some peace or even my piece, and even less often at what might be considered a reasonable time of the day or after a reasonable duration of duty.

But if you think I have a problem, consider the guid folk over at the SAS.

Now, presupposing you have the time, go and have a keek at these links.

Tea Break Paramedic criticised.

999 crew sacked in meal break row.

Fears over Paramedic meal breaks.

Taking a break.

There are some glaring issues highlighted.

There can be no doubt that in the case of the ambulance service, and indeed the Polis, the public expect, quite rightly, that they have a 24 hour service. However, despite frequent drunken abuse to the contrary, we are human and need our downtime and food. Our welfare must not be ignored. Long term, regularly interrupted or non-existent breaks do nothing for our health.

Having said that, I find it inconceivable not to respond to genuine calls for our skills and presence, even when my fork is about to be raised to my mouth. I will come back to this later, but a little ancient history first.

When I was fresh out of the wrapper, I recall that our skipper would routinely advise the shift who was piecing when as part of his briefing. On a night shift (then just 8 hours duration) half the shift would break at 1am and the other half at 2am for a fry up at HQ in the 24 hour canteen (i.e. before even the canteen staff went onto a 9-5!). Life was good and I didn't miss many of my appointments with the crew. Moreover, the Gaffers would turn up too and it was a good opportunity for shift bonding and the inevitable moaning!

Like the canteen, the booked break soon disappeared down the black hole of reorganisation. Along came the divide of response/neighbourhood policing, variable shift patterns and what I will term 'departmentalisation.' Now shifts are longer, break cover is apparently non-existent and the general demand on response teams is such that a piece time is no longer regarded as a necessity of a briefing or even in the mind of skippers as the shift progresses. Fellow troops will know we now 'grab' a piece when we can. Often this is at a desk as we update databases or fill in forms, sometimes it is in the cars as we hurtle from one job to another. Admit it, you'll all have been clocked by Joe Public with a Ginster's pastie in your mouth as you whizz by. I even suspect Inspector Gadget has been seen devouring a doughnut on the move!

I have known all too often what appears to be the unwritten rule that we must wait for the next shift to come in to get a break, because calls are ‘piling up.’ That can mean an eight hour haul till 10pm! Now that’s a long time for my belly to be empty and an even more daft time to eat. In simple terms it ain’t healthy. Particularly as there is the temptation to sneak in that Mars bar to keep you going!

It seems to me that the same problem presents itself to the Paramedics, particularly those in rural areas where there is no cover at all. It is hardly surprising then that they have called for established breaks to be mandatory and undisturbed. Surely it is for Management to arrange for suitable resourcing to obviate this problem of lack of cover.

I may be described as getting old in the tooth when I grumble about being disturbed on my admittedly paid for break for the same old dross, even if it is a ‘Grade 1’ call. Purely in welfare terms, the dross calls of a routine day and the invariable lack of resources to cover same bites my arse as that lasagne goes back in the micro for the umpteenth time as I leg it out the door to find on arrival at the call that Joe and Josephine Public are telling each other what a respective waste of space they are.

Now, when it’s a genuinely important non-routine call, where my services are really required and rapid response is the call of the day, I don’t mind. That’s what I’m paid for, even during my break and I accept that willingly.

Strictly speaking, I am entitled to 20 minutes break at some undefined time in a shift and by break that means completely away from my work environment, with no interruptions. When was the last time your skipper, gaffer or SMT asked you if you got that? Answers on a postage stamp please.

Now back to the SAS.

But hey, have a cuppa first and switch the phone/radio off.

In the Unionised world, breaks are stipulated and it appears that the ambulance service, as far as Paramedics are concerned anyway, have been run ragged for too long and have 'settled' for one or other option of single payments per disruption, yearly bonus for same or to be paid for the break time to always be available, whilst other have accepted their breaks are unpaid and as such cannot be asked to 'work.'

Given that the Paramedic concerned chose to be unpaid and if he did attend a call there would be all sorts of ramifications therein. Would the SAS 'cover' his backside if he responded and things went Pete Tong? You go guess!

Looking at the Editor's comment viz;

"Publicly, the ambulance service insists Mr Park was within his rights. Let’s hope that, privately, it is embarrassed and ashamed."

It only needed one word to be changed from the third person to the first and poor old Alfie would be the target of derision.

To me the simple issue is resources. There needs to be some compromise in rural areas were staffing is understandably thin. It seems ludicrous and palpably unworkable in such circumstances, were there is no relief that a Paramedic can be off duty during a tour of duty. Needs must and I would say the option to be unpaid is a non-starter, but Management must then take their staff’s welfare into account and assure there is cover for breaks.

In the world of the poor Polis, that would mean closer supervision and filtration of the nature of calls responded to by munching moaners and attention to ensuring staff get a reasonable, and reasonably timed, break each and every shift, even when the brown stuff really hits the fan.

Meantime, far’s that bridie, min?

© Mr Plod
Published by Toy Town™ Times

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