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EXHAUSTED ambulance workers are suffering from stress when they finish their shifts because of the pressures they are facing, according to a shocking new report.
A damning snapshot of the ambulance service released today ahead of the Unison health conference in Liverpool shows that staff are so overwhelmed by months of unprecedented demand they are suffering emotional breakdowns, chronic anxiety and stress, with many on anti-depressants.
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 of those surveyed 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 of the workers said long handovers outside hospitals were putting patient lives at risk, while more than a quarter said they were using medication such as anti-depressants, with over a third saying 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 understaffed teams.
“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.”
Some ambulance workers reported “dreading coming in to work” and “chronic anxiety and stress” before arriving at work.
One ambulance worker said: “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.”
NHS campaign groups weighed in to support the ambulance staff.
Your NHS Needs You national campaign lead Marshajane Thompson told the Star: “Our ambulance drivers have dealt with the brunt of funding cuts, staffing cuts and then dealing with the pandemic.
“Instead of relying on volunteers the NHS needs to end the outsourcing and privatisation rip-off, and deal with the staffing crisis that’s at the heart of the problem in the ambulance service and across the whole NHS.”
Liz Peretz of Oxfordshire Keep our NHS Public said: “Chronic underinvestment in our NHS, equipment and staff plus the privatisation of our services has led to this entirely avoidable mess and nowhere more so than in the ambulance service which has been run down and deliberately understaffed.
“This underfunding inevitably leads to intolerable pressure on staff and patients alike.”
Labour MP for Jarrow Kate Osborne said: “The huge delays for handovers at A&Es and delays on ambulance arrivals is putting lives at risk and adds a huge amount of stress to already overworked staff.
“The government should be investing in our NHS and staff to urgently deal with this crisis and giving a pay rise that ensures the retention of staff.”
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