UNISON survey reveals scale of secret stress among ambulance workers


Long hours, staff shortages and the mental demands of the job are placing an enormous burden on ambulance workers as nine in ten (91 per cent) say they are suffering with stress, according to a new UNISON survey published today (Friday) ahead of the union’s annual health conference in Liverpool next week.

The survey – of 2,977 ambulance workers – reveals that three–quarters (74 per cent) are suffering with sleep problems, 72 per cent said they felt irritable as a result and experienced mood swings, and more than half (56 per cent) suffered with anxiety.

More than a third (38 per cent) said they had to take time off sick because of work related stress and a quarter (26 per cent) admitted they were close doing so.

One paramedic described how hospital closures meant they now had to drive hundreds of miles everyday. He said: “Too few ambulances, missed meals and 16 or 17 hour shifts would stress anyone.”

Another ambulance worker who has not taken a day off sick in ten years said he was about to ‘explode’. Others described being tearful, suffering with migraines, post traumatic stress disorder and feeling exhausted.

Worryingly, almost three in five (58 per cent) admitted they did not tell their employer the reason they were off sick was stress. Only six per cent 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 (63 per cent) and one in two (52 per cent) said they talk to their peers in an attempt to cope.

As a result of pressures on the service and workers, a huge 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 of the respondents said they were unaware of any steps being taken by their employer to remove or reduce stress.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) said their employer did not support a good work-life balance and two in five (40 per cent) admitted they might need to take time off if the situation did not improve.

UNISON head of health Christina McAnea 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. It is no wonder areas such as London are now having to go to the other side of the world to recruit paramedics.”

Ambulance workers responding to the survey said:

“If I could find a job, I would leave like everyone else is. I‘ve been in the service for ten years but wanted it to be a 30 year career.”

“I’ve been off work for nearly six months with post-traumatic stress disorder after being assaulted.”

“I am a former army combat medic with tours of Afghanistan. I was less stressed and treated with more respect by my previous employer.”

“Many people have spoken to managers about the concerns in the workplace and it has usually fallen on deaf ears or has actually made the situation much worse.”

“I am actively seeking other employment with better money and fewer hours. I am fed up with bad management, clock stopping and working for a service where targets come before patients.”

“The stress is appalling. At times I am sicker than the patients and my managers have no interest in their staff.”

“I have gone part time as the stress of working full time has proved too much and is unsustainable to the age of 68.”

Health and well-being in NHS workplaces will be a hot topic at UNISON’s annual health conference which takes place next week at the BT conference Centre in Liverpool between Monday 13 and Wednesday 15 April.






Notes to editors 

UNISON represents 20,000 ambulance workers in the UK.

The online survey was sent to all ambulance members with email addresses in March/April 2015. The response rate is 14 per cent.

Causes of stress UK-wide
Long hours e.g shift-runs 71 per cent
Staff shortages 65 per cent
Mental demands of the job 45 per cent
Target culture 52 per cent
Physical demand of the job 40 per cent
Bullying and harassment 25 per cent
Abuse or violence at work 15 per cent



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