Borders health chiefs under fire over gesture of appreciation

NHS Borders has defended offering a 15-minute break as reward to staff for attending work during freezing weather, writes Kenny Paterson.

The health board has come under fire from staff after an internal email to employees revealed that they would be allowed a bonus of a quarter of an hour – or 900 seconds – off work during December.

The email read: “In recognition of the hard work and commitment all staff have shown during this year, in particular during the severe weather, it has been agreed in partnership that each member of staff within NHS Borders should be entitled to an additional 15-minute break. This can be taken as part of a planned break or at the beginning or end of a shift.

“This extra time should not incur any additional expense to NHS Borders or in any way compromise patient safety.”

The email, sent by NHS Borders’ employee director Edwina Cameron and chief executive Calum Campbell, admitted that the extra break was a “small gesture” but was felt to be important in order to recognise staff’s dedication.

TheSouthern understands the offer came about after union members having Christmas lunch were angered that they would not receive any financial contribution towards the cost of their meal or 30 minutes of extra time to eat it, as they previously have been allowed.

After negotiations with union officials, the offer of a 15-minute break for all staff – previously workers who did not have the meal did not receive any extra time off – was made.

While some were happy with the deal, others were said to be less satisfied.

One staff member told us: “Some people have been saying it was an insult having fought through snow and ice to get to work.

“NHS Borders should have kept the original half-hour break for Christmas. It surely would not have broken the bank.”

Ken Seaward, Unison regional organiser, also believes NHS Borders should reinstate the 30-minute Christmas bonus break for this year.

Mr Seaward told TheSouthern: “Fifteen minutes was granted following a request from Unison to recognise the need to give thanks to staff for their efforts during December.

“It was also in recognition of facilities which had been provided in previous years for Christmas lunch.”

An NHS Borders spokesperson said: “This was intended as a small gesture of appreciation – we have regularly thanked our staff and openly acknowledged their outstanding efforts and contribution to patient care throughout the severe winter weather.”

The health board has said it is no longer able to provide subsidised Christmas lunches, or gifts for long service and retirement, for staff after a ruling last year by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator involving NHS Lothian.

And in response to complaints over the 15-minute bonus, Mrs Cameron said: “As a public authority, we are not able to provide a monetary reward or allow any such incentives to impact on the services we provide to our patients for extra efforts demonstrated by staff.

“I am aware that some staff did not fully appreciate the gesture and I am sorry if people felt it was inappropriate, however, many did welcome the recognition this represented.”