By Niamh Anderson
PATIENTS will be at risk after health chiefs stopped paying switchboard staff overtime, it has been claimed.
Bosses in one NHS board have decided that staff will no longer be able to claim payment for working beyond their contracted hours.
But staff and union chiefs say the unmanned switchboards will cost lives.
NHS Lothian said it was a necessary measure in a bid to save £50 million from its 2011 budget.
The switchboards affected are at the Lauriston building, which fields calls from the public for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the Western General, the facility at St. John’s Hospital in Livingston, and one switchboard at Roodlands Hospital in East Lothian.
Staff working at the Royal Edinburgh psychiatric hospital in Morningside will also be hit by the cuts, meaning that crucial emergency back-up requests may be ignored.
Approximately 30 staff members who man the switchboards are currently doing extra hours on a time-and-a-half basis but this will be scrapped if health chiefs have their way.
Mick McGahey, a Unison representative for the Royal Edinburgh, said that the union had appealed to the health board not to implement this drastic money saving measure.
He said: “This is stupidity. It could mean no calls or emergency alarms will be answered. We’ve raised this with them but of course there has been no consultation.”
Staff are furious about the situation. They fear that the decision will cost people their lives if their calls are not answered.
But they also feel they could be faced with a difficult decision if they do not stay on to work overtime.
Mr McGahey said: “There’s a moral element of pressure that’s put on people, but our advice is to work your hours and if people complain, lot it.”
One employee said: “What are we supposed to do if our shift ends and someone’s having a heart attack, or someone’s being attacked at the Royal Edinburgh? Just get up and leave? They know we won’t do that and they’re playing on it.
“Everyone does overtime and the service, which needs to be 24/7, wouldn’t run without it.”
Martin Egan, NHS Lothian’s head of eHealth, said: “In common with other organisations, NHS Lothian is looking at ways of ensuring value for money, and as part of this, in the eHealth department we have stopped overtime payments to all of our staff.
“This means staff will only be working their core hours, and we are looking at more cost-effective ways, such as using staff from our redeployment pool, to ensure we have adequate staffing levels.”