Long hours, an increasing focus on targets and staff shortages are placing an enormous burden on ambulance workers in the West Midlands as more than nine in ten (92%) say they are suffering with stress, according to a new UNISON survey published today.
The survey is published ahead of the union's annual health conference in Liverpool next week.
The survey of 238 ambulance workers in the West Midlands reveals that nearly three-quarters (72%) are suffering with sleep problems as a result of stress, 74% said they felt irritable and experienced mood swings, and more than half (57%) suffered with anxiety. More than a third (38%) said they had to take time off sick because of work-related stress and 30 per cent admitted they were close to doing so.
One West Midlands paramedic described how paramedics are asked to deal with 999 calls:
“Late-finishing on shifts causes huge stress for me as a single parent. I can end up not seeing my child for days on end as he’s often asleep by the time I’m home.”
Another ambulance worker in the region revealed that their personal relationships are suffering because they always work late shifts and only get two weekends off every three months.
Worryingly, almost two-thirds (63%) admitted they did not tell their employer the reason that they were off sick was stress. Only five% said they would talk to a manager or a supervisor to cope with stress. Turning to friends and family is the most commonly mentioned source of support and almost half said they talk to peers in an attempt to cope.
As a result of pressures on the service and workers, a staggering four in five (82 per cent) admitted they had thought about leaving the job.UNISON is concerned that employers are not fulfilling their duty of care as more than half the respondents (56 per cent) said they were unaware of any steps being taken by their employer to remove or reduce stress.Six in ten (60 per cent) said their employer did not support a good work-life balance and more than two-thirds (34 per cen t)admitted they might need to take time off if the situation did not improve.
Franco Buonaguro, UNISON West Midlands Head of Health said:
“Working in emergency services is stressful but the pressure on ambulance staff is reaching dangerously high levels. 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.This confirms the findings from the NHS staff survey that shows much greater pressure on staff in the ambulance service than any other part of the NHS.The pressure on workers is mounting and the apparent lack of support from their employers means they are suffering in silence. Year after year the levels of stress remain unacceptably high and yet neither employers nor the government have done anything to address this.”