THOUSANDS of NHS staff have been asked to give up part of their Easter bank holiday in a bid to stop long queues of patients building in A&E departments.

But unions have firmly rejected the proposal, drawn up by Scotland's largest health board NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, saying bed and staffing cuts – not holidays – are to blame for the struggle to see, treat and admit patients quickly enough. Board managers now say they will not tinker with the traditional Easter holiday this year, meaning hospitals and community health services will be reduced to weekend staffing levels for four days in a row.

However, NHS GGC has warned it will want to discuss the possibility of bank holiday working again in future.

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The proposal to give up Good Friday or Easter Monday, in exchange for a day off in lieu, was seen by some NHS GGC staff as the thin end of the wedge. Next year both the Christmas and New Year holidays fall before weekends, meaning most GPs and thousands of NHS staff will not be available for two blocks of four days at one of the busiest times of the year.

A management paper circulated among unions said: "The four day holidays have been raised as a significant issue at a national level because of the impact on emergency services and the increased demand at emergency departments."

This winter hundreds of patients had to wait for more than 12 hours in A&Es, even though the festive holidays were midweek. Furthermore, a study at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary has revealed patients admitted to hospital during bank holiday weekends are more likely to die than those admitted during the rest of the year.

Cathy Miller, secretary for Unison in Greater Glasgow and a nurse, said: "There is no doubt NHS GGC has got into troubled waters around A&E waiting times at peak holidays, but that's not because our members are on leave, it is caused by year after year of funding cuts to our NHS.

"Fewer beds, fewer wards and fewer staff mean the system no longer has the capacity to flux when there is a crisis or even a predictable peak."

Unison conducted a ballot of members in the region and 94% of those who voted rejected the proposal to shorten the Easter break.

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland expressed similar concerns about the proposal.

Anne Thomson, RCN professional officer, said: "Tinkering with the holiday arrangements for one group of staff is not a serious way to deal with the pressures our health services are currently experiencing."

Dr Georgina Brown, GP and secretary for Glasgow local medical committee, said GPs had not been asked to open surgeries over the Easter weekend.

l Routine surgeries will be carried out at weekends and in the evenings by NHS Grampian in a bid to cut waiting times. Plans have also been approved to install four new operating theatres at two Aberdeen hospitals to help ensure all patients are treated within 12 weeks of seeing their GP. Health bosses said they would not increase bed spaces at wards, however.