Long hours, staff shortages and the mental demands of the job place an enormous burden on ambulance workers in Northern Ireland as 96 per cent report suffering with stress according to a new UNISON survey.
The survey – of 248 ambulance workers in Northern Ireland – reveals that 71 per cent are suffering with sleep problems, 73 per cent said they felt irritable as a result and experienced mood swings and 64 per cent suffered with anxiety.
Sixty three per cent said they had to take time off sick because of work related stress and 21 per cent admitted they were very close doing so.
One paramedic described how hospital closures mean they have to drive hundreds of miles every day. He said: “too few ambulances and missed meals would stress anyone.”
Another ambulance worker who has not taken a day off sick in ten years said he is about to ‘explode’. Others described being tearful, suffering with migraines, post traumatic stress disorder and feeling exhausted.
Worryingly, 44 per cent admitted they did not tell their employer the reason they were off sick was stress. Only 6 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 (56 per cent) and 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 84 per cent admitted they had thought about leaving the job.
UNISON is concerned that employers are not fulfilling their duty of care as 72 per cent said they were unaware of any steps being taken by their employer to remove or reduce stress.
Seventy-seven per cent said their employer did not support a good work-life balance and 69 per cent admitted they might need to take time off if the situation did not improve.
UNISON Regional Organiser, Nuala Conlon 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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“Work is becoming an endurance test, it is physically and mentally draining and if you tell management of your concerns you are told to your face if you don’t like it there are plenty of people who are happy to take your place. So we’re beat before we start.”
“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.”