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.
Unison said its research revealed that emotional breakdowns, sleep problems, mood swings and the use of anti-depressants 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.
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 families.
“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 dig 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.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressure NHS staff are under, especially those on the frontline in the ambulance service, and we continue to thank them for their dedicated hard work.
“We have provided an extra £55 million to boost ambulance staff numbers in control rooms and on the frontline on top of our Covid recovery plan – backed by record funding.
“Through the NHS People Plan all NHS staff have access to a comprehensive emotional, psychological, and practical support package including 40 mental health and wellbeing hubs which provide proactive outreach, rapid assessment and referral onto specialist support where needed.”