Ambulance workers overwhelmed because of pressures they face – report

Ambulance workers are being “overwhelmed” and suffering from stress when they finish their shifts because of the pressures they are facing, according to a new report.

By Philip Bradfield
Monday, 25th April 2022, 12:01 am
Updated Monday, 25th April 2022, 7:24 am

Unison said the research revealed that emotional breakdowns, sleep problems, mood swings and the use of antidepressants were among the issues reported by staff who have been dealing with “unprecedented” demand for months.

The union said staff shortages, lack of capacity in hospitals due to Covid and long-term underfunding have all contributed to “major problems” over the past few months.

The NI Ambulance Service (NIAS) and an NI spokeswoman for Unison said the same issues raised in the report - which covers all UK Ambulance Trusts - are also arising in NI.

Ambulances at the entrance to the emergency department with a number of the vehicle with patients awaiting to be admitted, at Antrim Area Hospital as the emergency department was at full capacity.

An NIAS spokesman said: “The issues identified are consistent with those highlighted in our ongoing engagement with Trade Union colleagues and with staff.

“The health and wellbeing of our staff has been, and remains, of the highest priority to us. We can only provide a service to the community if we look after the health and wellbeing of our staff.

“The challenges associated with late finishes, staff shortages, missed rest periods and prolonged waits at Emergency Departments, along with the additional stress of worrying about the welfare of patients in their care, all impact on our staff. This is further exacerbated by the increasing number of unacceptable assaults experienced by staff.”

NIAS said over recent years it had responded to the pressures by providing complementary therapies, promotion of physical fitness, a Peer Support model and Occupational Health support.

NIAS has also introduced “welfare hubs” at each of the major acute hospital sites where staff can avail of snacks and staggered rest breaks while queuing at hospital.

A Unison NI spokeswoman said: “The issues are the same in Northern Ireland - queueing outside hospitals which lead to hold ups in the service and increased pressure in control rooms to provide responses to calls.

“We are aware there is a global shortage of paramedics. There is a growing conveyor belt from training to burn out.”

She said the NHS plans to recruit 300 new staff has been hampered by the Covid pandemic.

“However we hear only 40 new entrants are completing training - an incoming health minister must focus on bolstering NIAS and resourcing the service,” she added.

The UK-wide report found that three out of four of more than 1,100 staff in various ambulance services roles across the UK who were surveyed said stress and pressure in their services has increased since pre-Covid days.

Over half said they felt “overwhelmed” by work and a similar proportion were struggling to cope with the demands of their jobs.

Of those ambulance workers who reported feeling stressed, three in five voiced concern that ambulances were taking too long to reach people in need .

More than half said long handovers outside hospitals were putting patient lives at risk.

More than one in four said they were using medication such as anti-depressants and over a third revealed they have taken time off work sick.

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “Staff are desperately trying to give the best care possible to patients, but the system is creaking at the seams.

“The increasing demands on already-stretched services is taking a terrible toll on ambulance employees and their mental health as they work under immense pressure in under-staffed teams.

“Ambulance staff, like so many in the NHS, can’t just leave their stress at the door when they get home. That has a huge impact on their well-being and their famil ies.

“Ministers can’t sit idly by as demand on 999 services spirals, ambulance queues outside hospitals lengthen, burnout runs rife and staff at their wits’ end decide that enough’s enough.

“It’s time for the Government to d ig deep to fund a generous pay rise that ensures experienced staff don’t quit and invest in the long-term future of a service on its knees.”

Comments from ambulance workers who took part in the survey included:

– “I’m dreading coming in to work and spending time sitting in the ‘car park’ outside my emergency department.”

– “I have chronic anxiety and stress prior to putting my uniform on and physically going to work. This can occur days before a run of shifts.”

– “My family feel like they never see me and when they do , I’m too mentally and physically exhausted to enjoy my time with them.”

The Department of Health was also invited to comment.