Ambulance staff pressure at ‘dangerously high levels’, says union

UNISON surveyed ambulance staff members online

UNISON surveyed ambulance staff members online - Credit: Archant

Pressure on the region’s ambulance staff is reaching “dangerously high levels”, according to union bosses, after 93% of members who responded to a stress survey reported symptoms.

One East of England ambulance worker said they were “sicker than the patients” when polled by UNISON, with others describing post-traumatic stress disorder and exhaustion.

The online survey was sent to all ambulance service members with email addresses. Of the 212 staff to report suffering stress at work, 71% blamed long hours, while 52% cited the cause as a “target culture” at the service.

Across the country, 14.8% of members completed the survey, which enquired about the health and well-being of ambulance staff.

A hundred in the East of England said they had taken time off because of work-related stress, with about half as many admitting they were close doing so.

The results also showed 74% (160) of stressed staff experiencing sleep problems, 72% feeling irritable and going through mood swings, and 62% suffering anxiety.

UNISON revealed that one paramedic had complained of “too few ambulances, missed meals and 16 or 17 hour shifts”. Others described being tearful and suffering migraines.

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Ahead of an annual health conference in Liverpool next week, union bosses declared their concern that employers were not fulfilling their duty of care, after 142 workers said they were unaware of any steps being taken to address the problem. Almost as many said they instead turned to friends and family for support.

But ambulance chiefs said measures were already in place to ease pressure, including the recruitment of hundreds more front-line staff and the addition of new ambulances to the fleet.

They said that, since last January, days lost to stress had reduced by more than 3,000 across the trust, and that an NHS survey of more than 1,000 staff last month revealed stress had actually fallen by 9%.

Anthony Marsh, East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) chief executive, said: “Our staff do a very demanding job, often in very difficult circumstances helping to save lives and improve patient care.

“I recognise the increased demand on our services and the unprovoked attacks my staff sometimes face from those they’re caring for, and the understandable impact this has on them. There are a series of further measures being considered by the trust board which will provide additional support to my staff.

“Staff wellbeing is of the utmost importance to me and we have a number of support mechanisms available 24/7 to make sure everyone gets any help and advice they need in the line of duty.

“I will continue to do everything I can to support and care for my staff whilst they treat and care for our patients.”

UNISON’s regional head of health, Tracey Lambert agreed that working in emergency services was stressful but argued that pressure was reaching “dangerously high levels”.

She said: “It is unacceptable that the current system doesn’t allow for proper breaks between shifts. Workers have told us they often work 14-hour shifts without a decent break.

“Higher call out rates and lengthy waits outside A&E departments are adding to the problem. It is clear that the pressure caused by government funding cuts is having a huge impact on staff and on patient safety. But it is vital that patients use the service responsibly, for example only calling 999 for an ambulance when there is a real emergency.”